Ohio abductions: Time to be a little more humane…
The residents of Seymor Avenue, one of Cleveland’s oldest neighbourhoods – Tremont in the US, woke up to the noises of police cars and sirens and a buzzing crowd on May 6, 2013. Shock ripped through the cluster of houses in the area when they realized that one of their ‘nice’ neighbours, 52-year-old Ariel Castro - a school bus driver - had held three women in his house for over a decade right under their noses.
As in the majority of cases, the three women victims –Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus - were known to the accused who had kidnapped them on the pretext of giving them a lift.
Knight was only 19 years old when she was kidnapped in 2002 while Berry was on the eve of her 17th birthday when she was abducted on the way back home from her workplace in 2003. DeJesus, a friend of Castro’s daughter, was merely 14 when she went missing while walking home from school after parting ways with his daughter.
Abducted in their teens, the three were repeatedly chained, raped and sexually abused in the house. Repeated rapes led to Castro fathering a child with Berry.
After being freed, the victims revealed tales of horror that they went through during their captivity. Knight told the police that she suffered five forced miscarriages after Castro hit her in the stomach and starved her for days to kill the babies.
Initially, the victims were kept chained in the basement but were later allowed to live in the second floor of the house. The torture continued for over a span of 10 years until one of the neighbours heard Berry’s cry for help through the crack of the door which led to the rescue of Berry, her daughter and the two other captives.
The chance freedom in this case has raised concerns regarding the mindset of our modern society. How could it happen that the buzzing neighbourhood had no clue about the tortures that were going on right next door?
Even friends and family members who had visited the house in those years couldn’t read the subtle signs. The visitors, including the daughter of Castro, had claimed that no unusual activity seemed to be going on in the house even though she was deterred by her father from visiting her childhood room in which one of the victims was confined.
Did Castro’s insistence on keeping the house locked all the time to the extent of locking the basement, attic and garage and mostly entertaining the visitors in the outside area raised no suspicion?
And this was on a street where cars drove by through the day; children rode around on their bicycles and neighbours stopped by to greet each other. How did no one suspect anything unusual in the 2207 Seymour Avenue in which the three women were living their worst nightmare?
Witnesses have claimed about sightings of a little girl (Castro’s daughter from Berry) in the attic and a woman looking from the window, but everyone seemed to believe that ‘the nice man’ living next door lived alone and could hardly be the monster that he is.
In today’s times, one hardly pays attention to what is happening around them because we are so involved in our lives or scared to intrude on other person’s privacy. Majority of us do not even know who our neighbours are, least alone interact with them.
To draw a line and not be imposing is one thing but ignoring blatant signs is downright indifference.
Despite the obvious signs around them, the neighbours, friends and the family chose to ignore their hunch and call the police.
Even the police, who went to Castro’s house to investigate his involvement in an incident in which he had left a small boy in school bus, found nothing amiss when no one answered the door. He was absolved of the charges later.
The case is eerily similar to the horrific captivity, rape and physical torture of Elisabeth Fritzl in Austria who was locked in the basement of her house for 24 years by her father Joseph Fritzl. He fathered seven children with her.
The sexual abuse of Elisabeth Fritzl began when she was merely 11 years old. When she was 18 years old, her father lured her into the basement of the house on some pretext. She was confined there for the next 24 years.
The basement was constructed in the very house where Joseph Fritzl lived with his wife and later three children he fathered with Elisabeth. But it was only after over two decades of confinement and chance freedom of Elisabeth that the shell-shocked mother even realized that all this time, her daughter was living in the very same house.
But weren’t the signs already there with Joseph Fritzl working away for entire night in the basement and no one was allowed to disturb him when he was in the basement for anything.
One of the tenants in the house grew suspicious and even asked Joseph Fritzl about the noises coming from the basement but an excuse that the noises were coming from the heating system seemed to put his mind to rest.
All of us get subtle hints and a gut feeling when something is not right. However, sadly, most of us choose to overlook it. All we need to do is follow our sixth sense and take a step to prevent such ghastly and barbaric incidents. This does not mean that one gets paranoid and starts looking at everything and everyone suspiciously but such incidents make it imperative that we heed to our gut instincts, be a little more attentive to our surroundings and most importantly be a little more humane.
No one can erase the sufferings and give back the moments that these victims have lost. However, we can only hope that the healing can begin for the victims and the moments that has been brutally snatched from them, could be salvaged again to ensure they have happier times in the future.