Police handling of Ohio missing women case under scanner

In light of the three women being rescued after over a decade in captivity in a Cleveland home, the police handling of the case has come under scanner.

Zee Media Bureau

Ohio: In light of the three women being rescued after over a decade in captivity in a Cleveland home, the police handling of the case has come under scanner.

Berry, 27, Michelle Knight, 32, and Gina DeJesus, about 23, had apparently been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s, police Chief Michael McGrath said.

Three brothers, ages 50 to 54, were arrested. One of them, former school bus driver Ariel Castro, owned the home, situated in a poor neighborhood dotted with boarded-up houses just south of downtown. No charges were filed.

It took Amanda Berry 10 years to get herself recued along with two other women, who were in their teens or twenties when kidnapped, when she managed to kick out the bottom portion of a locked screen door and used a neighbor`s telephone to call 911.

‘‘Help me. I`m Amanda Berry. I`ve been kidnapped, and I`ve been missing for 10 years and I`m, I`m here, I`m free now, ’’ she told the 911 dispatcher frantically.

Praising her brave act, Police Chief McGrath said, “Thankfully, due to Amanda`s brave actions these three women are alive today."

FBI Special Agent Stephen Anthony got emotional while hailing the three women’s survival spirit saying, "The nightmare is over. The healing can now begin."

He added: "Words can`t describe the emotions being felt by all. Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry."

He further promised to bring complete justice to them, saying that the perpetrators of the horrific case would be taken to task.

But the Cleveland police itself has come under loop for the mishandling of missing persons case.

Cleveland police are facing questions for the second time in four years about their handling of missing-person cases and are conducting an internal review to see if they overlooked anything.

City Safety Director Martin Flask said Tuesday that investigators had no record of anyone calling about criminal activity at the house but were still checking police, fire and emergency databases.

A relative of the three brothers, who were arrested in this case, said their family was "totally shocked" after hearing about the missing women being found at the home.

A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry`s daughter also was found in the home, police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said. He would not say who the father was.

The women were reported by police to be in good health and were reunited with joyous family members but remained in seclusion.

Police would not say how the women were taken captive or how they were hidden in the neighborhood where they had vanished. Investigators also would not say whether they were kept in restraints inside the house or sexually assaulted.

Four years ago, in another poverty-stricken part of town, police were heavily criticized following the discovery of 11 women`s bodies in the home and backyard of Anthony Sowell, who was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

The families of Sowell`s victims accused police of failing to properly investigate the disappearances because most of the women were addicted to drugs and poor. For months, the stench of death hung over the house, but it was blamed on a sausage factory next door.

In the wake of public outrage over the killings, a panel formed by the mayor recommended an overhaul of the city`s handling of missing-person and sex crime investigations.

This time, two neighbors said they called police to the Castro house on separate occasions.

Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard several years ago and called police. "But they didn`t take it seriously," she said.

Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of the house in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. "They walked to side of the house and then left," he said.

"Everyone in the neighborhood did what they had to do," said Lupe Collins, who is close to relatives of the women. "The police didn`t do their job."

Police did go to the house twice in the past 15 years, but not in connection with the women`s disappearance, officials said.

In 2000, before the women vanished, Castro reported a fight in the street, but no arrests were made, Flask said.

In 2004, officers went to the home after child welfare officials alerted them that Castro had apparently left a child unattended on a bus, Flask said. No one answered the door, according to Flask. Ultimately, police determined there was no criminal intent on his part, he said.

Castro, 52, was well known in the mainly Puerto Rican neighborhood. He played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands. He gave children rides on his motorcycle and joined others at a candlelight vigil to remember two of the missing girls, neighbors said. They also said they would sometimes see him walking a little girl to a neighborhood playground.

Ariel Castro`s son, Anthony Castro, said in an interview with London`s Daily Mail newspaper that he now speaks with his father just a few times a year and seldom visited his house. He said on his last visit, two weeks ago, his father wouldn`t let him inside.

"The house was always locked," he said. "There were places we could never go. There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage."

Anthony Castro, who lives in Columbus, also wrote an article for a community newspaper in Cleveland about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus just weeks after she went missing, when he was a college journalism student.

"That I wrote about this nearly 10 years ago _ to find out that it is now so close to my family _ it`s unspeakable," he told The Plain Dealer newspaper.

With Agency Inputs