Neighbors in disbelief, relief over discovery of 3 missing Cleveland women

  • Missing-Women-Found-house-2

    The Plain Dealer

  • News crews and the public are kept from the home on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland where three missing women were rescued. Evidence technicians removed bags of items from the home throughout the day Tuesday.
    News crews and the public are kept from the home on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland where three missing women were rescued. Evidence technicians removed bags of items from the home throughout the day Tuesday.

    CLEVELAND — A steady stream of onlookers showed up all day on Cleveland’s Seymour Avenue on Tuesday just to get a look at the place where three women were held captive.

    Many were there because they were in disbelief, some stopped while on a lunch break, and others were on trips through the area.

    Brittany Wingfield, 21, lives several streets away from where Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus were found Monday night.

    She can’t help but ask: “What if it was me?”

    “I’d want someone to think I was still alive if that was me,” she said.

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    Law enforcement officers who have spent a decade or more looking for the three women missing from the same west-side neighborhood never lost hope they would be found, Cleveland’s police chaplain said.

    “This is an emotional roller coaster these people are on,” said the Rev. Dean Kavouras. “They never gave up. These people believed and they checked leads as recently as two weeks ago.”

    Ms. Knight, now 32 and the oldest of the three rescued women, disappeared in 2002. Ms. Berry, 27, and Ms. DeJesus, 23, vanished in 2003 and 2004 respectively.

    A 6-year-old girl was found in the home and is thought to be Ms. Berry’s daughter.

    Three brothers have been taken into custody, though exact charges against Ariel, Pedro, and Onil Castro were not available Tuesday night.

    Ariel Castro, 52, owns the Seymour Avenue home.

    Neighbors and family said they were disgusted and shocked to learn that the women were inside all this time.

    “The girls were here this whole time. Right in front of us,” said Joe Tores, 32, who lives in the neighborhood. “It don’t make no sense. You’d never expect anything like that.”

    Mr. Tores’ aunt, Elsie Cintron, 55, said she once saw the 6-year-old girl standing in an attic window looking out and another time at a local park.

    The girl looked “rugged but clean,” said Ms. Cintron, who lives three houses away from Ariel Castro.

    The longtime Seymour Avenue resident held that day’s copy of The Plain Dealer close to her chest. The front-page headline read: “ALIVE AND SAFE.”

    “I’m happy it’s over, but sad they had to go through this,” Ms. Cintron said. “It’s so much to stomach. My stomach is flipped upside down.”

    The white two-story home appeared to be vacant, said Juan Perez, 27, who said he’s known Mr. Castro for 22 years.

    Some of the windows are covered with wooden boards, others with dark plastic. No one other than Mr. Castro was seen coming or going from the house, he said.

    Julio Castro said he had no idea his nephews were allegedly involved with the kidnappings. He said he hasn’t seen Ariel Castro in at least five years.

    “It’s terrible,” said Julio Castro, who owns and operates a nearby convenience store. “Shameful.”

    To his nephews he would say, “Shame on you.”

    Miss Wingfield praised Charles Ramsey, a neighbor who has said he heard a woman inside Mr. Castro’s home yelling for help and broke through a front door so she could escape.

    “You’ve got to stick up for stuff like that,” said Ms. Wingfield, who has a 5-year-old daughter and is expecting another child. “If you hear screaming, help. It could be a false alarm, but maybe it’s not. What if it was my little girl?”

    Ariel Castro was a bus driver, officials have said, adding that he was recently fired.

    Johnathan Morales, 20, said Mr. Castro sometimes drove a bus for children with special needs, including his two siblings, who are 9 and 14.

    “You’d never think that from him,” Mr. Morales said.

    Another woman, Santa Ocana, 57, who lives on Cleveland’s west side, said her friend declined to dance with Mr. Castro about two weeks ago at a nightclub.

    She knows Mr. Castro from his family’s convenience store and bands he used to play with.

    “He seemed like a nice guy,” she said. “People are not like they seem. You see their faces, but not their heart.”

    The middle section of Seymour, several houses on either side of Mr. Castro's home, were blocked by metal barricades, turning the usually quiet neighborhood into a gated community.

    News teams for various agencies, including a New York-based Japanese television station, swarmed the area.

    Cleveland police, the FBI, and deputies from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office were also out in force.

    Crime-scene technicians wearing full-body white suits entered and left the home for hours, sometimes carrying black garbage bags filled with items. Two vehicles were towed away.

    Neighbors said they want the house demolished as soon as the investigation is completed.

    “Don’t nobody want to live in a ghost house,” said Carmella Smith, 42, of Solon. “That’s a ghost house.”

    Several said that if it weren’t demolished, it probably would be burned by neighborhood residents.

    Others just have so many questions that thinking about the future of the home seems implausible.

    “What type of person would do that?” Mr. Tores asked.

    “What happened inside?” Ms. Wingfield wants to know.

    “I’m worried about what else they’ll find,” she said, then remarking what a beautiful and sunny day Tuesday was.

    “It’s a beautiful Cleveland day with a happy ending.”

    Contact Taylor Dungjen at: or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.