CLEVELAND — The families of three women who spent years in captivity inside a Cleveland home celebrated on Tuesday their remarkable rescue, as questions began emerging about why police were called to the house at least twice in recent years yet never went inside.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight vanished separately a decade ago while in their teens and early 20s only blocks from the eight-room house where they were found Monday night.
Their rescue occurred when Ms. Berry, now 27, hailed a neighbor while her captor was out, kicked in part of the front door with his help, and frantically called 911.
Also found in the house was a 6-year-old girl who is believed to be Ms. Berry’s daughter.
There had been signs that something was amiss inside the two-story house with faded paint, which sits on a street packed with small homes with open porches just steps away from a gas station and a Caribbean grocery.
Neighbors said that several years ago, a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard and pounding was heard on the doors in 2011. Police showed up each time but stayed outside, the neighbors said.
The home in a heavily Latino neighborhood was owned by Ariel Castro, 52, a former school bus driver who was arrested along with his brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.
Officials said children and family services investigators had gone to the home in January, 2004, because Ariel Castro had left a child on a school bus.
Investigators “knocked on the door but were unsuccessful in connection with making any contact with anyone inside that home,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said at a news conference, adding that officials “have no indication that any of the neighbors, bystanders, witnesses, or anyone else has ever called regarding any information regarding activity that occurred at that house on Seymour Avenue.”
The Castro brothers had not been charged, and it was unclear whether attorneys had been appointed for them.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Puerto Rican flag flapped listlessly on the porch of the Castro home as investigators in white hazardous-materials suits walked in and out. Crews hoisted a dirty brown sport utility vehicle onto a tow truck as a crowd watched from less than half a block away.
“Justice came for those young women,” said Hans Massas, 61, a retired worker at an auto-parts store who lives around the corner from the house.
The dramatic rescue of three young women who disappeared doing things as seemingly innocuous as walking home from school or from a job at Burger King produced a flood of emotions from local and federal authorities, who said they had never stopped investigating the cases.
“The nightmare is over. These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance,” said Steve Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cleveland division. “The families of three young ladies never gave up hope, and neither did law enforcement. ... Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry.”
In Washington, victims rights advocate and former America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh said he did “cartwheels” upon hearing the news from Ohio. “Most of these end where the child is never recovered or wind up like my Adam, murdered,’’ said Walsh, whose son was abducted and killed in 1981.
It was Ms. Berry, police and neighbors said, who flagged down a neighbor Monday night and persuaded him to help her kick in the lower part of the house’s front door. From across the street, she called 911.
“Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years,” she told the dispatcher tearfully before describing her alleged captor.
The neighbor, Charles Ramsey, said he has lived across the street from Ariel Castro’s house for about a year and frequently saw him outside, tinkering with his cars or playing with his dogs. “Not a clue that that girl was in that house, or that anybody else was in there” against her will, Mr. Ramsey said.
Mr. Castro’s estranged son, Ariel “Anthony” Castro, wrote an article for a community newspaper on the search for Ms. DeJesus in 2004 while he was a journalism student at Bowling Green University.
Roberto Diaz, who lives nearby, said Ariel Castro participated in at least one of the annual marches held in the neighborhood to draw attention to the case of the missing girls.
The three women were found to be in good health after medical evaluations and were reunited with family members. Sandra Ruiz, who identified herself as the aunt of Gina DeJesus, told reporters that all three were in remarkably good spirits. “It’s just unbelievable. ... These women are just so strong,” Ms. Ruiz said.
Authorities declined to answer questions about how the women were treated and said they will proceed cautiously when interviewing them, using a specially trained FBI team so as to spare them the trauma of reliving their captivity.
Mr. Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico, played bass in Latin music bands in the area, Reuters reported. Neighbors said he sometimes parked his school bus in front of the house at lunchtime and would take multiple bags of fast food inside.
In 2005, Mr. Castro was accused of attacking his former wife, Grimilda Figueroa, who suffered injuries including broken ribs and two dislocated shoulders, the Plain Dealer reported.
The conditions in the home, a law enforcement official said, were “abysmal at best.”
“They had no ability to leave the home or interact with anyone other than each other, the child and the suspect,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the investigation.
Another official said the FBI had begun questioning the women late Tuesday and had taken photos and helped collect evidence from the house.
Some residents expressed anger at the police, who they said had not done enough to find the missing women. Officers had twice been called to the home since 2000.
“The Cleveland police should be ashamed of themselves,” said Yolanda Asia, an assistant manager of a store that rents furniture and appliances. “These girls were five minutes away. They were looking for years and years; they were right under their nose.”
Angel Cordero, one of two men who helped Ms. Berry escape by kicking in the door, said that she had appeared ragged — her clothes dirty, her teeth yellowed and her hair “messy” — and that the child with her had looked “very nervous,” as though she had never seen anything outside the house before.
Martin Flask, director of Cleveland’s Department of Public Safety, issued a statement that the actions of the dispatchers who handled the 911 calls regarding Ms. Berry are under review after criticism by online commenters and social Web sites.
“While the call-taker complied with policies and procedures which enabled a very fast response by police, we have noted some concerns which will be the focus of our review, including the call-taker's failure to remain on the line with Ms. Berry until police arrived on the scene,” Mr. Flask said.