CLEVELAND, Ohio—Police visited the home of Ariel Castro, the man who police say held three young women captive for the past decade, at least once while they were being held inside. But it wasn’t until Monday when one of the women, 27-year old Amanda Berry, managed to escape and phone 911 that officers came and got them to freedom.
With Ariel Castro, 52, and brothers Pedro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, in custody and awaiting charges, authorities have come under scrutiny for how they missed clues that Berry and two other young women were being kept as prisoners in the rundown home in the city's west side neighborhood.
Berry, whom police called a hero for breaking out of the house Monday and summoning help, had disappeared in 2003 when she was 16. Michelle Knight went missing in 2002, when she was 20. Gina DeJesus, then 14, was reported missing in 2004.
Police, along with officials of the Children and Family Services department, visited the house in January 2004 to follow up on a report that Castro, then a bus driver for the Cleveland public schools, had left a child on a bus while he ate lunch.
Police say they investigated that incident, but felt there was no criminal wrong-doing and the matter was dropped.
“He was interviewed extensively due to that investigation,” Deputy Cleveland Police Chief Ed Tomba told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
Other reports said neighbors had called police after seeing suspicious activity at the house over the years.
This undated combination photo released by the Cleveland Police Department shows from left, Onil Castro, Ariel …Officials said Ariel Castro had called police to his home in March 2000, when he reported a fight in the street outside his home on Seymour Avenue on the city’s west side. But that was before any of the women were missing.
Shortly before 6 p.m. ET Monday, Tomba said, Berry, with the help of neighbors, was able to break out of the house and summon police. She was reported missing on April 21, 2003, after vanishing on the way home from her job at a local Burger King.
After Berry called 911, police responded to the home at 5:52 p.m. DeJesus and Knight were found inside.
Berry escaped the house along with a 6-year-old girl. Police confirmed the child was Berry's daughter but would not say who the father was.
While police would not comment publicly on whether the women had been abused or raped while held captive, several publications quote police sources as saying the women had been forced to have sex with their captors, resulting in multiple pregnancies.
The stories of Berry and DeJesus have captivated the city of Cleveland for a decade. They have been the subject of numerous vigils and city searches. Police have followed leads over the years, including digging up two backyards seeking their remains. On Monday, crowds gathered in the neighborhood where they were found and at the hospital where they were taken later.
“Our prayers have finally been answered—this nightmare is over,” said Stephen Anthony, special agent in charge of the Cleveland office of the FBI.
While much has been written about Berry and DeJesus, and the efforts to find them, not much has been written about Michelle Knight. "She has been the focus of very few tips," Tomba said.
Police said all three women appeared healthy, other than needing a good meal. They were taken to a Cleveland hospital, where they were reunited with their families—a scene police described as "chaotic."
According to public records, Ariel Castro has owned the home where the kidnapped women were found since 1992. Records also show Castro has at least one adult son and a grown daughter living two to three hours from Cleveland.
Outside the Castro home Tuesday, which police are still treating as an active crime scene, an American flag and a Puerto Rican flag hung above the front door. The Puerto Rican flag bothered Lucy Delgado, a nearby resident with family living in the largely Puerto Rican neighborhood.