Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were found after a neighbor heard screaming and called 911.
They went missing separately about a decade ago, when they were in their teens or early 20s, had been tied up but were found alive Monday in a residential area just south of downtown, and three brothers were arrested, police said.
Miss Berry disappeared aged 16, on April 21, 2003, after she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. Miss DeJesus went missing aged 14 on her way home from school about a year later.
Miss Knight disappeared about 10 years ago when she was 21.
Tomba and Police Chief Michael McGrath said the women had probably been in the same house for the whole time they were missing.
Police said they were alerted to the whereabouts of the women by a frantic emergency call from one of them, Amanda Berry, moments after she was freed from the house by a neighbor who said he heard screaming and came to her assistance.
“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,” Berry, now 26, is heard frantically telling a 911 operator in a recording of the call released by police and posted on the website of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
She said she had been taken by someone and begged for police officers to arrive at the home on Cleveland’s west side before he returned.
Police didn’t immediately provide any details of how the women were found.
Cleveland’s police chief Ed Tomba said he thought the women were tied up in the house and had been there since they disappeared. However they appeared to be in good health and had been taken to a hospital to be reunited with relatives and to be evaluated.
Children were also found at the property. Police have arrested a 52-year-old man and his two brothers in relation to the abductions.
The neighbor, Charles Ramsey, said in an interview broadcast by CNN that when he arrived, Berry appeared desperate to get through the door, which did not open properly.
“I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside,” he said, adding that he was astonished when she identified herself.
“I go on the porch and she said ‘Help me get out. I’ve been here a long time.’ – She comes out with a little girl … ‘Call 911, my name is Amanda Berry’… When she told me it didn’t register.”
“Then I realized I’m calling 911 for Amanda Berry. I thought that girl was dead,” he said.
He said he kicked the bottom of the door open so Miss Berry could crawl out as the man ran from the house. She emerged with a young child, he said, reports the Telegraph.
The two women found with her were identified by authorities as Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004 aged 14 while walking home from school, and Michelle Knight, who was reported to have been between 18 and 20 when she went missing in 2002.
The disappearance of Knight did not attract the local media attention of the Berry and DeJesus cases. Her grandmother, Deborah Knight, told the Plain Dealer that some family members had concluded, based in part on suggestions by police and social workers at the time, that she had run away, informs Reuters.
Loved ones said they hadn’t given up hope of seeing the women again. Among them was Kayla Rogers, a childhood friend of DeJesus.
“I’ve been praying, never forgot about her, ever,” Rogers told The Plain Dealer newspaper. “This is amazing. This is a celebration. I’m so happy. I just want to see her walk out of those doors so I can hug her.”
According to the Huff Post, Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other ailments, died in March 2006.
She had spent the previous three years looking for her daughter, whose disappearance took a toll as her health steadily deteriorated, family and friends said.
The suspects’ uncle, Caesar Castro, who owns a grocery store on the same street, said Ariel Castro owned the house where the women were found. He said that members of his family and the family of DeJesus “grew up together”.
“Everyone is shocked,” the elder Castro said.
Mr. Castro was described by neighbors as a friendly school bus driver and musician whose daughter would often come over with his grandchildren.
Mr. Ramsey said he had lived in the neighborhood for a year and saw the man in the house where the women were found “every day”.
The case was back in the spotlight in January when a prison inmate was sentenced to four and a half years after admitting he provided a false burial tip in the disappearance of Ms. Berry.
A judge in Cleveland sentenced Robert Wolford on his guilty plea to obstruction of justice, making a false report and making a false alarm.