Questions mount on US women’s captivity

Questions mount on US women’s captivity

CLEVELAND - Agence France-Presse
Questions mount on US women’s captivity

Friends and relatives stand in front of the house of DeJesus, one of the three women who held captive for a decade, as it stands decorated by well wishers. AFP photo

Euphoria over the rescue of three Ohio women from a decade-long kidnapping ordeal gave way to questions of how their captivity inside a house on a residential street in Cleveland went undetected for so long.

The women, freed when a neighbor was alerted to their presence by screams for help, huddled privately with family under FBI protection on May 7 as investigators combed through the house, seeking evidence against the accused captors.

Three brothers were arrested as suspects on May 6 evening just after the women escaped and are expected to be formally charged soon. One of them, Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver and the owner of the house, was thought to have lived there alone.

Mayor Frank Johnson confirmed that child welfare officials had paid a visit to the house in early 2004 because Castro was reported to have left a child on a school bus while he stopped for lunch at a fast-food restaurant. But the ensuing inquiry found no criminal intent, officials said. Contrary to unconfirmed accounts of several neighbors, the mayor denied that authorities had overlooked or failed to respond to suspicious activity at the modest, two-story home. The women’s imprisonment came to a dramatic end after a neighbor, drawn by the sound of screams, broke through the door to rescue Amanda Berry.

Recorded message

“Help me! I’m Amanda Berry. ... I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m here.

I’m free now,” a frantic Berry can be heard saying in a recording of the call released by police. Police have not said what role each man is suspected of playing in the case, but Berry named Ariel Castro in her 911 call as the man from whom she was trying to escape.

Questions have mounted about why the women’s captivity escaped notice, despite what neighbors said were a number of suspicious or disturbing incidents at the house in the low-income community on Cleveland’s West Side. Aside from the school bus incident in 2004, city officials said a database search found no records of calls to the house or reports of anything amiss during the years in question.