A Cleveland police patrol car sits in front of the boarded up home of Ariel Castro in Cleveland today.
CLEVELAND — One of the first officers at the scene where three women were held captive in a Cleveland house for about a decade says the emotion of the moment was overwhelming.
Officer Anthony Espada, in response to a request from top police brass, wrote down his recollections of what happened May 6, an account that was posted on a Cleveland police department blog.
“Everybody was in the right place. It couldn’t have gotten any better than that, that day,” Espada wrote. “I don’t feel like a hero. I’m just glad I was there, you know, just making sure they were safe. I feel so happy for them.”
The officers went to the home knowing they might find long-missing Amanda Berry. Radio dispatchers told them a 911 caller had identified herself as Berry and said, “I’m free now.”
Driving up to the home, Espada recalled, “We see this girl. She’s like raising her hand, holding a child. I’m looking at my partner, ‘Is it her?’
“He said, ‘I can’t tell.’ We were pulling up closer and as soon as we pull up, my partner was driving, so she came up to the driver’s side. He looked up at me and he’s like, ‘It is her.’”
That moment was overwhelming emotionally, Espada said. Then came another surprise as the officers weighed the possibility that Berry’s captor was inside the house.
“We figured he might possibly be in the house because she kept pointing at the house. My partner asked if anyone was still inside. She said, ‘Yes. Gina DeJesus and another girl.’ And it was like another bombshell with overwhelming force just hit me.”
The officers went into the house and quickly found Michelle Knight.
“She kinda popped out into ... the doorway and paused there for a second. I mean, within moments she came charging at me. She jumped onto me ... She’s like, ‘You saved us! You saved us!’”
Then DeJesus appeared from another bedroom.
“I just look at her,” Espada recalled. “You can immediately tell who it is ... and I asked her, ‘What’s your name?’ She said, ‘My name is Georgina DeJesus.’ Very overwhelming. I mean it took everything to hold myself together.”
Espada radioed the details. “We found them! We found them!”
The officer said he replays the scene in his mind every day.
The house was boarded up last week and a 10-foot security fence was installed around the property. Patrol cars blocked off the street for eight days and reopened it today.
The three women had been held captive since they disappeared between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s, authorities said.
Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, has been charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. His attorney has not returned messages seeking comment.
Castro has been jailed on $8 million bond.
He is under close scrutiny behind bars, on suicide watch and monitored every 10 minutes with mandatory reporting of all movements to a shift sergeant, according to jail logs. The logs, obtained today by The Associated Press through a records request, also indicate two guards must accompany him anytime he’s out of his cell.
“Castro is a high profile inmate; very high media attention,” notes a handwritten entry on Friday.
Castro has spent most of the last few days lying on a mat in his cell or on his bunk, occasionally walking around the cell and once staring in the mirror, the logs show. He’s had Kool-Aid at least twice, complained he was cold when he first arrived Thursday and said he had a headache on Sunday. The same day guards had to stop him using loose strings from the mat to floss his teeth.
The women’s rescue unfolded last week when Berry broke out part of a locked outer door and yelled to neighbors to help her escape and call police. She fled into the street holding a 6-year-old daughter fathered by Castro.
The girl was born Christmas Day 2006, delivered by Knight in a kiddie pool so the cleanup would be easy. Knight said she was ordered by Castro under threat of death to deliver the baby live.
Knight said she miscarried five times when Castro starved her and repeatedly punched her stomach.
Castro was arrested at a nearby fast-food restaurant the same night that the women escaped.