POINTED QUESTIONS arose yesterday amid the cheers of celebration on the day after the shocking news that three women who had disappeared from a blue-collar Cleveland neighborhood in the early 2000s - and were thought by many to be dead - had been freed from a nearby house, allegedly kidnapped by a retired bus driver.

Both authorities and American TV audiences riveted to the bizarre saga struggled with the same things:

How could three young girls, including two whose disappearances sparked community searches and local news coverage, be hidden for roughly a decade in plain sight, just three miles from where they vanished? And why didn't Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight try to escape from their alleged kidnappers, who reportedly raped, beat and impregnated them?

Perhaps more importantly, did police and other law-enforcement agencies flub opportunities to find the three kidnap victims before Monday night, when Berry's screams led to the dramatic rescue that was initiated by Charles Ramsey, a neighbor who has become an overnight TV sensation?

Two neighbors had previously called police because of unusual activity or sounds coming from the home, which was owned by the now-arrested bus driver Ariel Castro.

In one case, said the Associated Press, a neighbor said she called Cleveland police after her daughter once saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the back yard. In another incident, a different neighbor complained to police about banging on doors at the house, the AP reported.

In each instance, cops checked the yard but did not try to enter the home, which had all its windows boarded up or covered with plastic. The police confirmed yesterday that they visited the house in 2004 after a child was left abandoned on the bus that Castro was driving, but they believed no one was home.

As the questions circled, the three victims - and one 6-year-old said to have been born to Berry while she was held captive - reunited with their stunned and elated families while they were checked out at a Cleveland hospital. Their case was added to a short but growing list of young American women who have been held prisoner for months or years by adults.

"These individuals need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world. This isn't who they are. It is only what happened to them," Jaycee Dugard, who was chained for years in a back yard in Southern California, told People magazine. "The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More than ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope."

Experts said yesterday that it will probably take a while to untangle the conflicting emotions - fear, shame, and a sense of self-preservation - that prevented the three women from doing what many people who've never been in their predicament assume would be so easy to do - run away or call for help.

"There can be fear," said Donna Fielder, a professor of social work at La Salle University. "Sometimes they're told, 'I might kill the other women if you tell.' We don't know what threats were given to these people. One of them had a child."

In some cases, captives form an unnatural bond of support or even admiration with their kidnappers - a phenomenon that experts have dubbed "Stockholm syndrome" and that became famous in 1974 when kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst helped her captors rob a bank. For example, when Dugard was rescued after 18 years, she tried to deny who she was and said good things about kidnapper Phillip Garrido, who fathered her two children.

In Cleveland, authorities were said to be checking a report by WKYC-TV that there were five pregnancies among the three women held captive, that the babies did not survive amid repeated beatings, and that the women's graphic tales of sexual abuse sickened and disgusted police investigators. Police said they will not aggressively interrogate the women about their ordeal right away.

"Right now, we want to let them spend some time with their families and take this process very, very slowly and respectful for their families and the young girls' needs," Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said.

In addition to the 52-year-old Castro, his brothers Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, are also in police custody, although none has yet been charged with a crime.

Michelle Knight, nicknamed "Shorty," was 19 when her family reported her missing in 2002. A year later, Amanda Berry was one day shy of turning 17 and wearing her Burger King work uniform when she disappeared, prompting an extensive search. Gina DeJesus was just 14 when she disappeared a year later, in 2004.

At least one aspect of the reunion must be bittersweet for Berry. Her mother, Louwanna Miller, searched tirelessly for her, even appearing on a 2006 TV show on which a psychic insisted to her that Amanda was dead. An ailing Miller died the following year.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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