“HELP ME. . . . I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.” Listening to those words from Amanda Berry in her desperate phone call to a Cleveland 911 dispatcher, one can’t help but think of the horrors she and two other long-missing young women must have experienced at the hands of their abductors. That makes elation over their freedom all the greater.
America, accustomed to tragic endings when young women go missing, has been captivated by Monday’s astonishing events that led to the discovery of Ms. Berry and two other women who disappeared in the same area of Cleveland over a span of three years. Ms. Berry, now 27, went missing the day before her 17th birthday in 2003, and Gina DeJesus, 23, was 14 when she disappeared in 2004; Michelle Knight, 32, was reported missing in 2002. The women, along with a 6-year-old girl believed to be Ms. Berry’s child, allegedly had been held captive in the home of Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver who was arrested along with his two brothers.
Much is still unknown. The police investigation is just beginning, and the three women, all reported to be in good health, are spending time with their families. Given their trauma, police said they must be questioned delicately. But there are many questions: How and why were the women taken? Where were they held, and how could they have gone undetected for so long? Did no one notice anything or think to report it?
Law enforcement officials told reporters Tuesday that there had been no reports of suspicious or criminal activity at the house where the women were rescued, but the Associated Press quoted two neighbors as saying they had previously reported strange activity. It will be important for authorities to scrutinize their records to see if there had been missed signals or, as was the case with Jaycee Dugard, a woman who was held captive for 18 years by a California couple, breakdowns in procedures.
Police never abandoned the women’s cases, following through on leads and periodically turning to the media to focus new attention on them. Ms. Knight, who was older, attracted less interest because it appeared she was a runaway; therein lies a lesson for authorities. The families never gave up hope, and that’s a lesson for others dealing with the disappearance of loved ones.
Also to be considered is the wonderful difference that can be made by the actions of a good citizen. Ms. Berry was able to escape after a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, heard her screams and helped out. Mr. Ramsey, in an interview with a local TV station, said that he believed he was intervening in a case of domestic violence. Good for him to take seriously a woman’s call for help.