On May 6, 2013, a piece of news out of Cleveland, Ohio shocked the entire world. Three women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, were found alive after disappearing about ten years earlier. The three women had been held captive in a house in Cleveland and Berry had a six-year-old daughter fathered by the owner of the house, Ariel Castro. Castro was a bus driver for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District for 22 years until he was fired in November 2012 after violating a number of rules, including making illegal turns and leaving children on the bus unattended.
The first of the three women to disappear was Michelle Knight, who went missing at age 21 on August 23, 2002. At the time, Knight had a two-year-old son, who she had lost custody of to the state. On the day she went missing, she was scheduled to appear in court in a custody case for her son, but never made it. Knight was last seen at her cousin’s house. Because Knight was an adult when she went missing, local police believed that she had gone missing of her own will, out of stress or anger over losing custody of her son. Therefore, there was not an extensive investigative effort into her disappearance.
Amanda Berry disappeared on April 21 the day before her seventeenth birthday, after calling her sister to say that she had been offered a ride home from her job at Burger King. Investigators initially believed that Berry was a runaway, but her mother insisted that she would never run away right before her birthday. A week after Berry’s disappearance, her mother received a phone call that would change the course of the investigation. The caller was a man, who said “I have Amanda. She’s fine and will be coming home in a couple of days.” At first, Berry’s mother thought that the call was a prank, since Berry’s photo had been shown on TV that day, but investigators determined that the call came from Amanda’s cell phone. After that, the FBI no longer believed that Berry had run away. In 2006, Berry’s mother died of heart failure, never knowing what happened to her daughter.
On April 2, 2004, 14-year-old Gina DeJesus disappeared on her walk home from school. DeJesus’ mother had given her money to take the public bus home from school, but she elected to walk instead. Initially, investigators did not know whether DeJesus’ disappearance was connected to Berry’s.
On that fateful day in May of 2013, Ariel Castro left the house and had forgotten to lock the “big inside door” of the house, though he did lock the external storm door. Berry decided to take a chance and scream for help from behind the storm door. She told police that she made no attempt to break through the other door that day because she believed that Castro was testing her. She screamed until she caught the attention of a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, who was eating a meal inside his home when he heard the desperate cries. Ramsey and another neighbor, Angel Cordero, then kicked the storm door until Berry and her six year old daughter were able to crawl out. Berry was then able to call 911, and said “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.” When the police arrived, they entered the home and found Knight and DeJesus in two different rooms upstairs. The three women and the child were all brought to the hospital. Berry and DeJesus were released the following day, and Knight was released on May 10.
On May 6, 2013, Ariel Castro was arrested and charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. Two of Castro’s brothers were also taken in for questioning but were released on May 9. A DNA test was conducted that confirmed that Castro was the father of Berry’s daughter. Knight also told police that she had been pregnant at least five times during her imprisonment, but Castro had forced her to miscarry by starving her and punching her in the stomach. All three of the women admitted to having been raped by Castro many times over the years.
On June 7, a grand jury indicted Castro on 329 total counts, including 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, 7 counts of gross sexual imposition, 3 counts of felonious assault, 2 counts of aggravated murder (for the forced miscarriages of Knight), and one count of possession of criminal tools. The counts cover the period between August 2002 and February 2007, despite the fact that the total imprisonment of the women lasted a decade. Castro pleaded not guilty and his lawyers were reportedly working towards a resolution that would forgo the need for a lengthy public trial, to protect the victims from reliving the emotional experience. On July 3, Castro was deemed mentally competent to stand trial, and began his pre-trial hearings. Castro’s requests to see the six-year-old daughter that he fathered with Amanda Berry were denied. Castro was sentenced to life in prison, plus 1,000 years, and fined $100,000. On September 3, 2013, only one month into his sentence, Castro was found hanging by a bed sheet in his prison cell. He was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. The autopsy concluded that he had committed suicide by hanging.
In the time following their rescue, the three women and Berry’s child have returned to the homes of their family and are all living private lives, despite the media firestorm centered on them.