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Police facing questions in 3 women's Ohio rescue

CLEVELAND One neighbor says a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago. Another heard pounding on the home's doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows.

Both times, police showed up but never went inside, neighbors say. Police also paid a brief visit to the house in 2004.

Amanda Berry, right, with her sister in a Cleveland hospital Monday, May 6, 2013.
Amanda Berry, right, with her sister in a Cleveland hospital Monday, May 6, 2013. WOIO-TV

Now, after three women who vanished a decade ago were found captive Monday at the peeling, rundown house, 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.

The three women were rescued after one of them kicked out the bottom portion of a locked screen door and used a neighbor's telephone to call 911.

"Help me. I'm Amanda Berry," she breathlessly told a dispatcher in a call that exhilarated and astonished much of the city. "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."

Berry, 27, Michelle Knight, 32, and Gina DeJesus, about 23, had apparently been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s, said Police Chief Michael McGrath. CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reported that the three women were held in restraints for some time of their captivity.

Mugshots of Onil, Pedro and Ariel Castro, the three suspects arrested in the Cleveland kidnapping piece. City of Cleveland, Department of Law/CBS

Three brothers -- Ariel Castro, Onil Castro and Pedro Castro -- whose ages are between 50 and 54 -- were arrested. Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, owned the home, situated in a poor neighborhood dotted with boarded-up houses just south of downtown Cleveland. No immediate charges were filed but the suspects are expected to be charged on Wednesday.

A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry's daughter was also found in the home, said Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba. 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.

Robert Osario, a cousin of Gina DeJesus, told Reynolds that Gina was happy and that her spirits were high when asked how she looked. He also knew the suspect Ariel Castro for over 20 years. "We never suspected anyone like that would do something like this," Osario said.

"Prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over," said Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI in Cleveland. "These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin."

He added: "Words can't describe the emotions being felt by all. Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry."

A general view of the exterior of the house where three women who had disappeared as teenagers approximately ten years ago were found alive on May 7, 2013, in Cleveland, Ohio. Getty

Robert Osario, a cousin of Gina DeJesus, told Reynolds that Gina was happy and that her spirits were high when asked how she looked. He also knew the suspect Ariel Castro for over 20 years. "We never suspected anyone like that would do something like this," Osario said.

Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, who were held captive by abductors at a young age, said they were elated by the women's rescue.

"I am overjoyed," Smart told "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley when she heard the news. "I think that just goes to show that everyday people, the general public are the people who are going to make the biggest difference. It was because of the bravery and the heroism of that one [neighbor] that ended up saving those three girls because he was willing to listen, he was willing to act, he was willing to help. So I think it's just wonderful."

Police would not say how the women were taken captive or how they were hidden in the same neighborhood where they vanished.

CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reported that the FBI is still processing the home where the three women were held in captivity. They're also searching the residences and the cars used by the three suspects, the Castro brothers. Investigators say they also might look for evidence in workplaces and storage facilities. At the same time, some specially trained interviewers are talking with the three women victims to find out how they were abducted and the conditions of their captivity and also to find out if anybody else was many people have involved.

As for other potential victims in the Cleveland matter, Orr reported that one case involves another missing woman, Ashley Summers, which the FBI is now taking another look. She disappeared from the same Cleveland neighborhood in July 2007 when she was 14 years old. In 2009, the FBI issued an appeal for information regarding three missing women: Summers and two of those who were found Monday, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. However, it's not known if Summers had any connection at all to the others.

Four years ago, in another poverty-stricken part of town, Cleveland's police force was 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.

Location map of three abducted Cleveland women found. CBSNews/Mapbox

Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter once 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.

Police identified the three suspects as Ariel Castro, 52; Pedro Castro, 54; and Onil Castro, 50. Attempts to reach Ariel Castro in jail were unsuccessful.

Tito DeJesus, an uncle of Gina DeJesus, played in bands with Castro over the last 20 years. He recalled visiting Castro's house but never noticed anything out of the ordinary, saying it had very little furniture and was filled with musical instruments.

"I had no clue, no clue whatsoever that this happened," he said.

Also arrested were Castro's brothers Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50. Calls to the jail went unanswered, and there was no response to interview requests sent to police, the jail and city officials.

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.

On Tuesday, a sign hung on a fence decorated with dozens of balloons outside the home of DeJesus' parents read "Welcome Home Gina." Her aunt Sandra Ruiz said her niece had an emotional reunion with family members.

"Those girls, those women are so strong," Ruiz said. "What we've done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive."

Many of the women's loved ones and friends had held out hope of seeing them again,

For years, Berry's mother kept her room exactly as it was, said Tina Miller, a cousin. When magazines addressed to Berry arrived, they were piled in the room alongside presents for birthdays and Christmases she missed. Berry's mother died in 2006.

Just over a month ago, Miller attended a vigil marking the 10th anniversary of Berry's disappearance.

Over the past decade or so, investigators twice dug up backyards looking for Berry and continued to receive tips about her and DeJesus every few months, even in recent years. The disappearance of the two girls was profiled on TV's "America's Most Wanted" in 2005. Few leads ever came in about Knight.

Knight vanished at age 18 or 19 in 2002. Berry disappeared at 16 in 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. About a year later, DeJesus vanished at 14 on her way home from school.

Jessica Aponce, 24, said she walked home with DeJesus the day the teenager disappeared.

"She called her mom and told her mom she was on her way home and that's the last time I seen her," Aponce said. "I just can't wait to see her. I'm just so happy she's alive. It's been so many years that everybody thinking she was dead."

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's CEO, John Ryan, said Berry, DeJesus and Knight likely would be honored by his group.

"I think they're going to be at the top of the list," he said.

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