CLEVELAND - The families of three women who spent years in apparent captivity inside a Cleveland home celebrated their remarkable rescue Tuesday as questions began emerging on why police went to the house at least twice yet never went inside.
The women - Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight - vanished separately a decade ago while in their teens and early 20s only blocks from the 1,400-square-foot house where they were found Monday night. Their rescue came almost by accident, when Berry, now 27, hailed a neighbor while her alleged captor was out, slipped through an obstructed front door with the neighbor's help, and frantically called 911.
Yet there apparently had been signs that something was amiss inside the faded house, which was far from isolated and just steps from a gas station and Caribbean grocery. Neighbors told the Associated Press that in recent years, a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard, and pounding was heard on the doors. Police showed up each time but stayed outside, they 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. Authorities said investigators went to the home in January 2004, after all three girls went missing, 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 bothers had not been charged as of Tuesday evening.
The dramatic rescue 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."
In addition to the three women, a 6-year-old girl was also rescued. The girl is believed to be the daughter of Amanda Berry.
Berry disappeared in April 2003, a day before her 17th birthday, after calling her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. Gina DeJesus went missing a year later, at age 14, while walking home from school. The oldest of the women, Michelle Knight, vanished in August 2002, when she was 20.
While Berry's and DeJesus's disappearances prompted widespread attention, the case of Knight, who was older and the first to go missing, at the time drew far fewer headlines.
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.
Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of the house in 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. "They walked to side of the house and then left," he said.
"Everyone in the neighborhood did what they had to do," said Lupe Collins, who is close to relatives of the women. "The police didn't do their job."
Law enforcement officials said at a briefing Tuesday that despite what the neighbors say, there had been no prior reports of suspicious or criminal activity at the house where the women and girl were rescued.
On Monday, while Castro was out, Berry hailed a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, convinced him to help her slip through an obstructed front door by kicking in the lower part, and placed a frantic call to 911.
"Help me. I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years," she told the dispatcher tearfully. "And I'm, I'm here. I'm free now."
Authorities declined to specify how the brothers were placed under arrest. Pedro and Onil Castro have addresses elsewhere in Cleveland, police said.
Ariel Castro's son, Anthony, said in an interview with the Daily Mail of London that he speaks with his father just a few times a year and seldom visited his house. On his last visit two weeks ago, he said, his father would not let him inside.
"The house was always locked," he told the newspaper. "There were places we could never go. There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic."
Ramsey told a TV reporter that he has lived across the street from the house for about a year and frequently sees Ariel Castro outside, tinkering with his cars or playing with his dogs. They have eaten barbecue and listened to music together, he said.
"Not a clue that that girl was in that house, or that anybody else was in there against his will," Ramsey said.
The women were reunited with relatives and assessed at Metro Health Medical Center, officials said. Sandra Ruiz, who identified herself as the aunt of DeJesus, told reporters that all three women were in remarkably good spirits.
In 2004, Ariel Castro came to police attention when he apparently left a child unattended on his school bus, but authorities determined that it was accidental, authorities said. Castro also summoned police to his home in 2000 to report a fight in the street, authorities said.
"The real hero here is Amanda. She's the one who got this rolling," Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said. "We're just following her lead."