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Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus return to Cleveland homes after years in captivity

As Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus made triumphant returns home Wednesday, authorities in Cleveland charged their captor with multiple counts of kidnapping and rape for putting the women — along with a third, Michelle Knight — through a decadelong hell of sexual abuse and complete disconnect from the outside world.

But on a whirlwind day in the bizarre case, police said only the mastermind of the heinous crimes, 52-year-old former school bus driver Ariel Castro, will face charges. 

His brothers, Onil and Pedro Castro, both of whom were arrested along with Ariel on Monday night, can’t be directly connected to the horrific acts.

“Ariel kept them at a distance,” said Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba, suggesting that Onil and Pedro may have had limited knowledge of what was really happening inside their brother’s Seymour Street home. 

Ariel Castro will be arraigned Thursday morning, while his two brothers will appear in court on outstanding, unrelated misdemeanor charges, authorities said.

As they outlined the case against Ariel Castro — four counts of kidnapping, three counts of rape — at a Wednesday afternoon news conference, police also revealed details about the victims’ imprisonment.

They were allowed outside the house only twice, and for brief periods of time. They were kept in separate rooms, often chained down or otherwise restrained.

The women were subjected to repeated rape and sexual abuse. 

The Castro home, Mr. Tomba said, “was in disarray” when police arrived. It’s unclear exactly what conditions the women were forced to live in.

Miss Knight, kidnapped in 2002 and now 32 years old, and Miss DeJesus, now 23 and missing since 2004, were found upstairs in the home, police said. 

Miss Berry, now 27 and mother of a 6-year-old daughter born in captivity, led Monday night’s escape by banging loudly on a door and screaming, desperate pleas for help that attracted the attention of a neighbor and eventually drew police to the home.

For all the horror the women were put through, they brought joy to the streets of Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon.

As Miss Berry and Miss DeJesus returned home, rowdy crowds of well-wishers cheered them on. Balloons and signs of support covered the porches of both homes.

Clad in a bright, neon hoodie with her face covered, Miss DeJesus gave a quick thumbs up to onlookers at her home, a gesture which drew even louder applause.

For their families, this week brought the end of a long nightmare.

“I knew my daughter was out there alive. I knew she needed me, and I never gave up searching for her,” Gina’s father, Felix DeJesus, told the throng of reporters camped outside his family’s home.

At the Berry house, Amanda’s sister, Beth Serrano, pleaded for privacy as the family struggles to comprehend what’s happened.

“Our family would request privacy so my sister and niece and I can have time to recover,” she said.

There remains some mystery as to the condition of Miss Knight, the only one of the victims not to make an appearance Wednesday. She reportedly remained in the hospital in “frail” condition.

While police continue their investigation, they have been on the receiving end of allegations they didn’t do enough to find the women sooner. 

In the days since Monday’s harrowing rescue, numerous neighbors have said they called authorities in regard to suspicious sounds or activities at the Castro home. 

Cleveland police are disputing those claims, and do not believe they missed obvious clues that could have brought the victims home much sooner.

“We’ve asked ourselves that question numerous times over the past 10 years. ... I’m just very, very confident in the ability of those investigators and those law enforcement officers that they checked out every single lead,” Mr. Tomba said. “If there was one shred of a tip, no matter how minute it was, they followed it up aggressively.”

Earlier Wednesday, Cleveland Detective Jeff Follmer told CNN that it’s no shock to see people coming “out of the woodwork” and claiming to have alerted police.

“It’s not true,” he said. 

The department also said on its Twitter page that after an exhaustive search of their records, they found no evidence of phone calls or other messages directing them to the Castro house.

Police aren’t the only ones under fire for their actions in the case. The 911 call-taker who took Miss Berry’s frantic plea for help Monday night also is the subject of an investigation. 

The call-taker hung up on the distressed victim before police arrived.

“Please be assured that this matter will be investigated, and if necessary, appropriate corrective action taken,” said Martin L. Flask, director of Cleveland’s Department of Public Safety.

 

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