By MARSHA MERCER
Three young women and a 6-year-old girl in Cleveland can finally breathe free because one of the women, Amanda Berry, refused to become resigned to a living hell. She risked losing her life for a chance of escape.
Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, has been charged with multiple counts of kidnapping and rape and is being held on $8 million bond. This is good news, although his jail time won’t be nearly as harsh as the conditions in which he allegedly held his victims.
That much we know, but the rest of the story of Cleveland’s house of horrors is still unfolding. How could Castro have kept three women imprisoned in a house in a crowded city neighborhood for a decade?
A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, is the Good Samaritan who became an internet sensation with his audacious TV interviews and excited call to 911. As everyone now knows, Ramsey was eating food from McDonald’s when he heard a woman’s screams.
“I figured it was a domestic-violence dispute,” Ramsey told a local ABC News reporter in a widely seen video clip. Ramsey didn’t turn away and refuse to get involved. He said he rushed to kick the door in, freeing Berry and her daughter. McDonald’s Corp, tweeted “way to go Charles Ramsey-we’ll be in touch.”
Alas, poor Ramsey’s shot at free Big Macs for life is in jeopardy. He may not have been the first rescuer on the scene after all.
“The truth – who arrived there, who crossed the street, who broke the door – it was me,” another neighbor, Angel Cordero, said in Spanish, according to a translation by a Cleveland TV station.
Plus, Ramsey’s sudden fame inevitably brought scrutiny and then news that he himself had been arrested three times for domestic violence from 1997 to 2003.
Ramsey’s tarnished folk hero status aside, it’s actually heartening to think that more than one neighbor responded to Berry’s cries. It’s great to see strangers doing the right thing, especially when it could be personally dangerous.
Had Ariel Castro come home before the rescue was complete, we likely would have had a sad story. No telling what the man would have done. He is accused of kidnapping Berry, Michelle Knight, and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus between 2002 and 2004, when they were 16, 20 and 14, respectively.
His method of capture was hideously simple. He offered Michelle a ride, told Amanda his son worked at the same Burger King she did, and offered to take Gina to visit his daughter, a school friend, according to news organizations that viewed police reports.
Castro reportedly kept the women in chains in the basement for the first few years then allowed them to move to locked rooms upstairs. They were allowed outside only a couple of times in all those years.
There were clues something was terribly wrong on Seymour Avenue. Neighbors in the close-knit Puerto Rican neighborhood saw Castro take a child to a playground but didn’t ask about her. One man told The Washington Post he didn’t want to be thought a “bochinchoso,” slang for gossiper.
Other nearby residents heard banging from the house and screams. A naked woman wearing a dog collar was spotted on all fours in the back yard. Someone saw a sad child’s face in an attic window. One or two neighbors now say they called police, but police say they’ve searched records and found no calls.
When the police dispatcher asked Charles Ramsey if Amanda Berry needed an ambulance, he heatedly replied that she had been kidnapped.
“She needs everything,” he said. “Put yourself in her shoes.”
Everyone prays there are no nightmare cases like this anywhere else, but thousands of people go missing every year. The National Crime Information Center contained 87,217 active missing person records as of last Dec. 31. Juveniles under 18 made up 37 percent of the cases, and 17 percent were between 18 and 20.
The people on Seymour Avenue didn’t know a monster lived nearby. It’s heart-breaking to think that if the neighbors who saw something had said something, the victims might have breathed free years ago.
©2013 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.