- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Details began emerging Tuesday about the horrors endured by three Cleveland women who were kidnapped and held for a decade in a run-down house with plastic bags over the windows, but researchers on abductions and sexual assault say there will be a lot of help for them and their families.

As the sensational story developed, police encounters with the house in a poor neighborhood also began coming to light. They included separate calls from neighbors about seeing a nude woman crawling in the backyard and hearing pounding from inside the home’s doors.

The women, who reached freedom Monday night, “are now embarking on their next journey, and that’s the journey to heal,” said John Ryan, chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which supported the hunt for two of the missing women, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus, who vanished as teens. The third woman, Michelle Knight, was reported as missing as an adult.

Mr. Ryan, whose group offers resources for family counseling for such traumas, called the escape “a day of celebration.”

“Prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over,” said Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI office in Cleveland. “These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin.”

Cleveland police have arrested three brothers — Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50 — in the case. Criminal charges were expected to be filed by Wednesday.

According to NewsChannel 5 in Ohio, the three women endured multiple pregnancies during their years of captivity. At least five babies were born inside the home, and one victim had at least two miscarriages because she was so malnourished, reporters said. The house was boarded up in parts, some doors did not have knobs, and chains and tape were found inside.

Melissa Bermudez, a licensed clinical social worker at the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest organization against sexual violence, said she couldn’t speak to the specifics of the Cleveland case but that victims of trauma and sexual violence generally need to “feel physically safe” as an important first step.

Next steps are commonly getting back into basic self-care — brushing one’s teeth, for instance — eating a good meal, reconnecting with loved ones, and re-establishing a sense of safety and stability, Ms. Bermudez said.

“Then they can really start working towards [addressing] the more complex parts of the trauma,” she said, noting that it’s not uncommon for certain sounds, smells and lighting in a room to trigger unpleasant memories.

The women were rescued Monday evening after Ms. Berry, 27, cried out for help to a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, from behind a nearly closed front door. When Mr. Ramsey saw her fighting to get through the door, he and another man came to her aid by kicking in the door. Ms. Berry and a little girl — believed to be her 6-year-old daughter — scrambled out.

They ran to a safe place, and Ms. Berry frantically called a 911 dispatcher and said, “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”

Police swiftly converged on 2207 Seymour Ave., a house near downtown Cleveland, and found two other women — Ms. DeJesus, 23, and Ms. Knight, 30 — who also vanished about a decade ago.

Authorities arrested homeowner Ariel Castro and his two brothers.

The three women and the girl were taken to a hospital and released Tuesday morning. Cleveland police Commander Keith Sulzer said they were with law enforcement specialists and family members.

“Those women are so strong. All have a positive attitude,” Sandra Ruiz, aunt of Ms. DeJesus, told reporters Tuesday. “What we’ve done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive.”

However, two neighbors in the mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood where the women were held said they had alerted police to suspicions regarding the Castro home.

Elsie Citron, whose daughter saw the naked woman some years ago, told reporters that she called law enforcement, “but they didn’t take it seriously.”

Israel Lugo said that when he called about hearing noises from inside the home 18 months ago, police merely knocked on the door, and when they didn’t get an answer they “walked to side of the house and then left.”

According to The Associated Press, police went to the home at least one other time since the women were kidnapped, but on an unrelated matter that led to no arrests or official action.

Cleveland police have been accused of incompetence and not noticing crimes in poor and minority neighborhoods. In 2009, Anthony Sowell was arrested after 11 women’s bodies were found buried in his home and yard in another run-down neighborhood. Many of Sowell’s victims — he is now on Ohio’s death row — were addicts whose disappearances were barely investigated.

In the latest case, Ms. Knight vanished in August 2002 when she was 19 and was reported missing by her family. Her mother, Barbara Knight, moved to Florida but often returned to West Cleveland to search for her daughter.

Ms. Berry was last seen April 2003 leaving her job at Burger King in a car with an unidentified driver. She was 16.

Ms. DeJesus vanished while walking home from school when she was 14.

Ms. Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, died in March 2006 after being hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other ailments. Her relentless search for her daughter took a toll on her health, family and friends said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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