on May 06, 2013 at 7:02 PM, updated May 07, 2013 at 12:13 PM
Three longtime missing women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, have been found alive, apparently kidnapped and held for years as prisoners inside a house on Cleveland's near West Side.
Berry called police Monday afternoon and frantically told a dispatcher that she was alive and free after being kidnapped 10 years ago and held captive in a house on Seymour Avenue.
"We've confirmed it's them," a Cleveland detective said. "They are alive and safe." Police have scheduled a news conference for 9 a.m. today.
Berry, now 27, DeJesus, 23, and Knight, 32, were taken to MetroHealth Medical Center. The FBI and police will interview the women, the detective said.DeJesus, missing for nine years, and Knight, missing for 11 years, were with her.
Police arrested three brothers, ages 50, 52 and 54. Police did not release names.
But neighbors said one of them is the owner of the house, Ariel Castro, 52, a Cleveland school bus driver until last November who had lived in the two-story house since 1992. Records show he was arrested for domestic violence in 1993, but a grand jury declined to indict him.
Police were searching the house and yard Monday night and into this morning.
Berry was the first to get out of the house, escaping through a broken door. A child came out behind her. Police then came and rescued the other two women, who were taken to the hospital. It wasn't immediately known who the child was.
Dr. Gerald Maloney, emergency room doctor at MetroHealth, said in a news conference Monday night that the three women were in fair condition.
"They are able to speak, they are safe, and hospital staff are assessing their needs and evaluating if they will spend the night," he said. "This is good. This is not the ending we usually see from these stories."
Knight, who was 21 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen at a cousin's house near West 106th Street and Lorain Avenue on Aug. 23, 2002.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson released a statement Monday expressing gratitude that the three women were found alive.
"We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing," Jackson wrote.
Outside of MetroHealth, a large crowd awaited word on the women's condition.
Berry's cousin, Tasheena Mitchell, 26, who was 16 years old when Berry disappeared, said her brother had called to tell her the news that Berry is alive. But she said she received it skeptically, having had her hopes dashed by false reports in the past.
"She was my best friend," Mitchell said.
A friend interrupted her, "She's alive. She is your best friend."
"You're right," Mitchell continued. "She is my best friend. I'm so nervous. I'm so excited. They won't let me inside. But I will stay here all night if I have to."
Drivers passing the hospital and the neighborhood honked their car horns in support, while police protected the rescued women's relatives from a crush of TV news cameras and reporters.
Many in the crowd hugged and cried.
"They don't find people who go missing, you know," said Kayla Rogers, 23, who waited at the hospital for news of her friend. She attended Almira Elementary and Wilbur Wright Middle School with DeJesus. "I'm at a loss for words."
Rogers said she only attended one vigil over the years because it was too painful.
As the crowd grew outside of Castro's house, details about the mysterious resident circulated.
Jannette Gomez, 50, who often visits family and friends on the street, said Castro would park his motorcycle and red pickup truck behind the house, lock the gate and enter the house through a back door.
Occasionally, he would turn on a dim porch light, but the house was always dark, Gomez said. Shades blocked the windows, and at least one window was boarded up.
Gomez said he never had much to say, she said. He would say 'Hi' back, but there was never much conversation.
Castro's uncle, Julio Castro, who owns a store called Caribe at the corner of West 25th Street and Seymour, said he had mixed emotions about the discovery.
"For me, it's bad on one side and good on the other side."
Julio Castro said his nephew used to play bass in various bands that performed at a local club once owned by DeJesus' uncle. He said he believes his nephew knew the family from the club and the neighborhood.
Charlie Czorba, a Caribe customer who lives on Seymour, said he was stunned by how long the women had lived at the house undetected.
"This is our own backyard," he said. "These girls were locked up in our own backyard."
Another neighbor, Victor Pratts, who has lived on the street for about 25 years, said Ariel Castro would occasionally come out and ride a four-wheeler with him. But Pratts said he never saw any of the three women enter or exit the house.
Aurora Marti, 75, who lives across the street from Castro, said she was sitting on her neighbor's front porch talking Monday evening when an arm reached out of the front door at Castro's house.
"She was waving her arm and saying, 'Help me! Help me!' " Marti recalled through her daughter, who translated from her mother's Spanish.
The captive woman identified herself as Amanda Berry and said she was kidnapped 10 years ago.
Neighbor Charles Ramsey said he also heard a girl screaming, "Help, help me out." He said the girl looked familiar. He said he called 9-1-1.
Ramsey said Castro took off running while Ramsey kicked and broke the bottom of a door, allowing Berry to crawl out.
Police arrested Castro at a nearby McDonald's restaurant and brought the other two women out of the house, witnesses said.
Ramsey said he knew Castro, had even eaten ribs with him -- and had no idea the women or the child was in the house.
"We never thought that man would do anything to anybody," Pratts said. "He was a bus driver."
Mike Iwais, a longtime resident in the neighborhood, lives in a house just a parking lot away -- about 200 feet -- from Castro's house.
"I used to see him walking around all the time," he said. "But I never saw nothing crazy. This is unbelievable. It's a miracle they found him, and it's a miracle those girls are alive. It's a blessing from God."
Michelle Knight's grandmother, Deborah Knight, said she had not yet heard from police but was waiting for some kind of verification that one of the women is really her granddaughter. Although Michelle Knight was reported missing more than a decade ago, family members concluded that she probably left on her own because she was angry that her son was removed from her custody, the grandmother said. She said her daughter believed she had last seen Michelle Knight several years ago in a van with an older man at a shopping plaza on West 117th Street.
A June 2004 story that appeared in the Plain Press, a West Side neighborhood newspaper, was written by someone named Ariel Castro and described the community's anxiety since the disappearance of DeJesus and Berry. A Plain Press spokesman said the Ariel Castro who wrote for the publication was a journalism student whose relationship to the man in custody is not known.
The author interviewed DeJesus' mother, Nancy Ruiz, and a group of parents waiting for their children to be released from Wilbur Wright Middle School. They spoke of the need for greater security and the fear that had settled upon the neighborhood.
"For seven weeks, Gina's family has been organizing searches, holding prayer vigils, posting fliers and calling press conferences," Castro wrote. "Despite the many tips and rumors that have been circulating in the neighborhood, there has been no sign of her. One thing is for certain, however. Almost everyone feels a connection with the family, and Gina's disappearance has the whole area talking."
Rachel Dissell and Peter Krouse contributed to this story