When she was 13, Gina DeJesus would walk nearly 40 blocks from Wilbur Wright Middle School to her Cleveland home, winding through thriving commercial areas, blocks dotted by churches and neighborhoods dogged by drugs and prostitution.
It was one of those treks that led to her nine-year ordeal in captivity.
DeJesus disappeared while walking home from school April 2, 2004, and was not found until she was rescued from a Cleveland house Monday night with two other women, capping an amazing saga that riveted the nation Tuesday.
The 5-foot-1-inch teen with long, curly dark brown hair was very close to her family and didn’t leave home much once she arrived there, according to local media accounts and her profile on the “America’s Most Wanted” Web site. The television show first featured her case in 2005.
The depth of the family relationships — and the pain caused by DeJesus’s disappearance — are starkly evident in postings on Facebook, a site that barely existed when she went missing.
In March, her aunt, Janice Ruiz Smith, wrote on a Facebook group dedicated to finding her: “To the person who took my niece Gina, please please let her go. I know deep in your heart, there is goodness. She has a family who loves her, and misses her very much. Please let her come home.’’
The posting added that Ruiz Smith would be putting up posters and handing out prayer vigil flyers.
Also in March, DeJesus’s mother, Nancy Ruiz, noted the upcoming nine-year anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance. “To all my loved ones, sorry for not being there for you,” she wrote. “Been ups and downs, but lives go on. Gina, I love you and miss you so much. . . all of us are doing the best we can, just hang in there.’’
In the days after DeJesus went missing, the family’s modest home turned into a media hot spot, according to accounts in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Television trucks were parked outside, and the mayor visited. But family members soon began to despair, when the frantic efforts to find her yielded nothing.
In an irony that triggered media reports and online commentary Tuesday, the estranged son of former school bus driver Ariel Castro wrote of her disappearance in 2004 for a Cleveland area community newspaper. DeJesus was being held captive in Castro’s home.
“For seven weeks, Gina’s family has been organizing searches, holding prayer vigils, posting fliers and calling press conferences,” said the article by Ariel “Anthony” Castro, then a journalism student at Bowling Green State University. “Despite the many tips and rumors that have been circulating in the neighborhood, there has been no sign of her.’’
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to say that Gina DeJesus was 13 when she disappeared, not 14, which was the age originally given by authorities. According to court papers filed after a bond hearing for Ariel Castro, DeJesus was kidnapped on April 2, 2004, three months before her 14th birthday.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.