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Police facing questions in 3 women's Ohio rescue
Wednesday - 5/8/2013, 3:40am EDT
CLEVELAND (AP) -- One neighbor says a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago. Another heard pounding on the home's doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows.
Both times, police showed up but never went inside, neighbors say. Police also paid a visit to the house in 2004, but no one answered the door.
Now, after three women who vanished a decade ago were found captive Monday at the run-down house, Cleveland police are facing questions for the second time in four years about their handling of missing-person cases and are conducting an internal review to see if they overlooked anything.
City Safety Director Martin Flask said Tuesday that investigators had no record of anyone calling about criminal activity at the house but were still checking police, fire and emergency databases.
The three women were rescued after one of them kicked out the bottom portion of a locked screen door and used a neighbor's telephone to call 911.
"Help me. I'm Amanda Berry," she breathlessly told a dispatcher in a call that exhilarated and astonished much of the city. "I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."
Berry, 27, Michelle Knight, 32, and Gina DeJesus, about 23, had apparently been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s, police Chief Michael McGrath said.
Three brothers, ages 50 to 54, were arrested. One of them, former school bus driver Ariel Castro, owned the home, situated in a poor neighborhood dotted with boarded-up houses just south of downtown. No charges were filed.
A relative of the three brothers said their family was "totally shocked" after hearing about the missing women being found at the home.
Juan Alicea said the arrests of his wife's brothers had left relatives "as blindsided as anyone else" in their community. He said he hadn't been to the home of his brother-in-law Ariel Castro since the early 1990s but had eaten dinner with Castro at a different brother's house shortly before the arrests were made Monday.
A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry's daughter also was found in the home, police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said. He would not say who the father was.
The women were reported by police to be in good health and were reunited with joyous family members but remained in seclusion.
In eastern Tennessee, Berry's father, Johnny Berry, told WJHL-TV that he spoke to her for the first time Monday night by phone at his home in Elizabethton.
"She said, 'Hi, Daddy, I'm alive,'" Johnny Berry said. "She said, 'I love you, I love you, I love you,' and then we both started crying."
Although Amanda Berry was born and raised in Cleveland, her father, grandparents and cousins live in Elizabethton. Before she disappeared, she often visited Tennessee during the summers. Family members said they visited her in Cleveland about three weeks before she went missing.
The head of the FBI in Cleveland, Stephen Anthony, said the families' prayers for the missing women had been answered.
"The nightmare is over," he said. "These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin."
He added: "Words can't describe the emotions being felt by all. Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry."
Police would not say how the women were taken captive or how they were hidden in the neighborhood where they had vanished. Investigators also would not say whether they were kept in restraints inside the house or sexually assaulted.
Four years ago, in another poverty-stricken part of town, police were heavily criticized following the discovery of 11 women's bodies in the home and backyard of Anthony Sowell, who was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
The families of Sowell's victims accused police of failing to properly investigate the disappearances because most of the women were addicted to drugs and poor. For months, the stench of death hung over the house, but it was blamed on a sausage factory next door.
In the wake of public outrage over the killings, a panel formed by the mayor recommended an overhaul of the city's handling of missing-person and sex crime investigations.
This time, two neighbors said they called police to the Castro house on separate occasions.
Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard several years ago and called police. "But they didn't take it seriously," she said.