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Escape from Captivity: The Cleveland Kidnappings

Aired May 12, 2013 - 19:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John Berman in New York.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin in Cleveland.

Tonight a CNN special report, ESCAPE FROM CAPTIVITY: THE CLEVELAND KIDNAPPINGS. I am just a few steps away from where Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held in unthinkable living conditions for so many years. Neighbors still grappling with the horrors taking place behind those closed door.

BERMAN: Tonight we're going to go in-depth. We have the most complete picture yet of just how these three women lived and survive for so many years. And a CNN exclusive you're going to hear from the daughter of Ariel Castro, the 52-year-old bus driver charged with their kidnapping, and you're going to hear from the families, the families of the victims that held on to hope for so long about what it's like to have their loved ones back home.

SAMBOLIN: John, it's an incredible ending to the case of these three missing women. Vanished for as long as a decade. Over the past few days millions have been watching the emerging details of their daring escape and rescue, the emotional homecoming, and neighbors and family asking how, how did this go on for so long and unnoticed?

But it all began with one brave woman seeing an opportunity and making a run for freedom.


UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: Cleveland 911. Do you need --

AMANDA BERRY, KIDNAPPING SURVIVOR: Hello, police. Help me, I'm Amanda Berry.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): It started with this desperate 911 call.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: OK. And what's going on there?

BERRY: I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years, and I'm here. I'm free now.

SAMBOLIN: This is Amanda Berry in her first minutes of freedom in 10 years.

BERRY: Are they on their way right now? I need to know.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: We're going to send them as soon as we get a car open.

BERRY: No, I need them now before he gets back.

SAMBOLIN: For a decade Berry and two other young women had been trapped in this house until Monday when she sees a rare chance at escape and took it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Incredible night in Cleveland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of people said tonight is a miracle.

SAMBOLIN: Screaming through a crack in the door she'd been locked behind, two heroic neighbors hear her pleas, kicked down the door and bring her across the street to call 911. Charles Ramsey recalls his first words with Berry.

CHARLES RAMSEY, HELPED AMANDA BERRY ESCAPE: I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of the house. I go on the porch, and she says help me get out. I've been in here a long time. So we kicked the bottom and she comes out with a little girl and she says call 911. My name is Amanda Berry.

SAMBOLIN: Police rush to the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a caller on the phone with a female who says her name is Amanda Berry and that she had been kidnapped 10 years ago.

SAMBOLIN: Listen as they realized it's not just Berry who's been locked away inside the house all these years.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Gina DeJesus might be in this house also. We also have a Michelle Knight in the house.

SAMBOLIN: Two more women, Michelle Knight, missing since August of 2002, and Georgina DeJesus, missing since April of 2004, are also rescued.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, CNN'S AC 360: Three missing women found after years.

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, CNN'S ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: We have breaking news tonight. Three women who went missing in separate cases more than a decade ago have been found together.

SAMBOLIN: Police quickly identified the home's resident, sweep in and arrest him. Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, is accused of kidnapping the women and holding them against their will in what's been described as a house of horrors. His two brothers are also arrested in connection with the case. Meanwhile the first photo of Amanda Berry emerges showing her reunited with her sister in the hospital and Berry's young daughter born while she was in captivity also in the picture.

BURNETT: The young child found the house is believed to be Amanda Berry's child.

SAMBOLIN: Unsettling details emerged about Castro. Fired from his job as a bus driver after several infractions including leaving a child on a bus and then a criminal complaint filed in 2005 by his ex- wife, alleged brutal abuse -- broken ribs, broken nose, lacerations, and threats to her life.

The FBI searches his house, uncovering nightmarish condition, rope and chains.


SAMBOLIN: The same day, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry and Berry's daughter are released from the hospital. They returned home to the streets lined with cheering supporter.

FELIZ RUIZ, FATHER OF GINA DEJESUS: I knew my daughter was out there. I knew she needed me and I never gave up.

SAMBOLIN: A few blocks away Amanda Berry's family is timely able to welcome their daughter home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to say we have so happy to have Amanda and her daughter home. We appreciate all you have done for us throughout the past 10 years.

SAMBOLIN: Late in the afternoon on Wednesday Ariel Castro is formally charged and his two brothers are cleared in connection with the kidnapping.

VICTOR PEREZ, CLEVELAND CHIEF ASSISTANCE PROSECUTOR: As it relates to Pedro and Onil Castro, no charges will be filed against these two individuals at this time.

SAMBOLIN: Then Thursday Castro appears in court, shackled, disheveled, eyes pointed down as he is arraigned on multiple counts of rape and kidnapping. DNA experts worked furiously trying to determine whether he is in fact the father of Amanda Berry's child. And Friday it's confirmed. DNA tests prove that Castro is the father. Difficult news to digest as we learned that Michelle Knight is finally released from the hospital.

Now all three women -- Gina, Michelle and Amanda -- are home savoring their first few moments of freedom with loved ones.


SAMBOLIN: It's going to be a long road back for these three women and for their families.

And, John, we're going to hear from those families. That's coming up a little bit later in the show.

BERMAN: Thanks, Zoraida. But first the shocking details of just what happened during those years of captivity. CNN has learned new information about their nightmarish ordeal inside this house of horrors. How did they live, why did they never escape before and how did his own family not know about the twisted secret he was keeping.


BERMAN (voice-over): 2207 Seymour Avenue, not just an address, not just a house, but a prison where Ariel Castro allegedly committed acts of unspeakable horror.

LOUWANA MILLER, MOTHER OF AMANDA BERRY: When I leave, I think of coming home, (INAUDIBLE) sits on my porch, because she might be upstairs and it doesn't happen.

BERMAN: Three young women, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, pulled from their everyday lives, taken from the streets, stolen from their families, and held captive for years. Police say they were tied up. They were beaten severely. Police found chains and restraints throughout the house. Based on the original police complaint, 10 years of brutality, 10 years of confinement. And all that time we're told the women were seen outside on just two occasions confined to the backyard seen here in these photos exclusive to CNN where a small cross was placed in the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're doing our best for the family, as all law enforcement is doing.

NANCY GRACE, HLN HOST: Two years later police still don't know where Amanda Berry is.

JOHN WALSH, FORMER HOST, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED": She still hasn't been found. This little girl.

LARRY KING, FORMER HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": This is a missing girl.

WALSH: Yes, missing 14-year-old girl.

BERMAN: In 2004 Amanda Berry's mother Louwana Miller was desperate for answers and appeared on "The Montel Williams" show asking psychic Sylvia Browne for help.

MILLER: So you don't think I'll ever see her again?

SYLVIA BROWNE, PSYCHIC: Yes, in heaven on the other side.

BERMAN: In 2007 Gina's parents found renewed hope when Shaun Hornbeck, abducted and held for 4 1/2 years was found alive.

NANCY RUIZ, MOTHER OF GINA DEJESUS: Never give up that help. Never. Because you never know.

F. RUIZ: We could bring my child home or Amanda Berry Anybody that's seen anything happen to that child.

BERMAN: Little did they know their daughters were just miles away, only now in retrospect were there the vaguest hints. The padlocked door that would eventually lead to the girls' dungeon is seen here in this photo taken back in 2001.

Listen to Castro's daughter, Angie Gregg, in an exclusive interview with CNN.

ANGIE GREGG, ARIEL CASTRO'S DAUGHTER: I asked him if I can see my room for old time's sake. And he says, oh honey, there's so much junk up there, you don't want to go up there.

BERMAN: Not junk but prisoners. Officials say Castro would trick the women, pretending to leave only to beat them if there was any sign they tried to escape. An initial police incident report says Knight became pregnant at least five times during her captivity and at each time Castro starved her for at least two weeks and punched her repeatedly in the stomach forcing miscarriages.

But there was one pregnancy that was different. Amanda Berry was allowed to keep her child. She gave birth to Castro's daughter in a plastic pool.

It sounds diabolical and nearly unbelievable to Castro's child.

GREGG: Ariel, I knew that if you would have asked this last week, I would have told you he's the best dad and the best grandpa. All these weird things that I've noticed over the years, like about, you know, how he kept his house locked down so tight, certain areas and -- everything is making sense now. It's all adding up. And I'm -- I'm disgusted, I'm horrified.

BERMAN: And probably the most unnerving Gina DeJesus was his daughter's Arlene Castro's best friend. She even appeared on "America's Most Wanted" because Arlene was the last person to see DeJesus before her disappearance.

ARLENE CASTRO, ARIEL CASTRO'S DAUGHTER: I decided to call my mom and ask her. And so she gave me 50 cents to call my mom, and so my mom said no, that I can't go over to her house. And so I told her I couldn't and she said well, OK, I'll talk to you later. And she just walked.

BERMAN: And earlier this week she appeared on "Good Morning America," shocked and in disbelief.

ARLENE CASTRO: I would like to say I am absolutely so, so sorry. I really want to see you, Gina. And I want you to meet my kids. I'm so sorry for everything.


BERMAN: Coming up the triumphant homecoming. What is it like to think your loved ones are gone forever only to get the greatest news of your life a decade later. The families of the victims speak out when our special coverage of ESCAPE FROM CAPTIVITY continues.


BERMAN: Welcome back to our special report, ESCAPE FROM CAPTIVITY: THE CLEVELAND KIDNAPPINGS. I'm John Berman in New York.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. I'm in Cleveland.

Imagine the pain of a loved one seeming to disappear into thin air. Holding out hope for their return, the years of leads that go nowhere and prayers that go unanswered, and eventually the resignation that they're gone. Now imagine all of that changes when your loved one miraculously returned.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): In a story so dark these are the images that bring so much hope, sisters reuniting, a parent's tears of relief, a neighborhood welcoming home a lost sister.

For three families a feeling of almost indescribable joy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm excited to see her, excited to hold her, excited to squeeze her. Excited to tell her how much I love her and miss her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We missed her for 10 whole years and I thought about her every day. And I knew she would come --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day, every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew she would come home.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You never gave up hope.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never gave up hope.

SAMBOLIN: And after almost a decade of searching, a feeling of vindication.

F. DEJESUS: I have one God, high and mighty, to give me the strength to fight to see this day.

N. RUIZ: Even the ones that doubt it I still want to thank them the most because they're the ones that made me stronger, the ones that made me feel the most that my daughter was out there.

BERRY: Hello.


BERRY: Yes, Grandma.

SAMBOLIN: Amanda's grandmother, Fern Gentry, was overcome hearing that voice for the first time in a decade.

GENTRY: How are you?

BERRY: I'm fine.

GENTRY: I'm glad to have you back.

BERRY: I'm glad to be back.

GENTRY: I thought you were gone.

BERRY: Nope. I'm here.

GENTRY: We're happy down here for you.

BERRY: Thank you so much. I miss everybody and I love you guys so much.

SAMBOLIN: I spoke with Gentry shortly after their phone call.

(On camera): What was going through your head?

GENTRY: Oh my lord. That she's alive and I'm talking to her after all that time, which I never thought I ever would. But I didn't give up hope and I'm glad she's OK. For what she's been through, she sounds good and it -- and it was a miracle that I -- that I got -- that we did get to talk. I know her life has been bad.

SAMBOLIN: There are a lot of people who did not give up hope, who relentlessly looked for you daughter and then there are the people who actually rescued her. And so is there anything you'd like to say to them?

GENTRY: And I thank them from the bottom of my heart and I'm just glad Amanda was strong enough to come to that door and come on out. You know after that long she made her way through and got out and made -- I mean, we're all just beyond words. I mean, it's just -- it's just a miracle that she appeared back with us. I just can't -- it's just so great. And I thank the lord.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): All three women now returning to a new world and adjusting to a new normal.


SAMBOLIN: And reintroducing themselves to their loved ones and the world. I spoke with Michelle Knight's brother Freddie Knight after their reunion at the hospital.

FREDDIE KNIGHT, BROTHER OF MICHELLE KNIGHT: Yes, I was shock when I found out, yes. My body was like shaking, yes, realizing that my sister is found. I hugged her because she wanted a hug.

SAMBOLIN (on camera): Did he change? Did she look different to you?

KNIGHT: Yes, she did. I mean her hair wasn't long, she's like -- like white as a ghost, but she's doing good.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And yet the family remembers a very different girl full of youth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We used to have dance contests and jump on the beds and act silly. And Michelle was always silly.

SAMBOLIN: Berry, a child herself when she was kidnapped, now returns home with a daughter of her own.

GENTRY: The little girl is your baby.

BERRY: Yes, she's my daughter, born on Christmas.

GENTRY: I thought about you all this time. I never forgot you.

SAMBOLIN: Berry's grandmother told me how she's ready to embrace change.

GENTRY: It's just the most happiest time that's ever happened in my life. That's the most important thing that's ever happened in my life, that she's back. That she's back with us. And I can't wait to see her and the baby. The baby is my great grandchild and I'll love it because it's part of her, part of ours live.

Amanda, you hang in there, honey. You be strong. And I'm praying for you and I love you.


SAMBOLIN: When we come back, he became a hero, a household name and an Internet sensation literally overnight. Anderson Cooper's interview with Cleveland rescuer Charles Ramsey right after this.


BERMAN: Welcome back to our special report, ESCAPE FROM CAPTIVITY: THE CLEVELAND KIDNAPPINGS. I'm John Berman in New York.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin in Cleveland.

Everything changed for Charles Ramsey the moment he heard the screams coming from his neighbor's house. What Ramsey discovered there would free three women, blow open a decade-old kidnapping case, and rocket him to Internet stardom all in one breath.

Our Anderson Cooper caught up with Ramsey near the scene of the kidnapping.


COOPER: And so you moved in about a year ago. You'd seen Ariel Castro around, right?

RAMSEY: When I moved there, only because he was my neighbor.

COOPER: Right.

RAMSEY: You know what I mean?

COOPER: What was he like?

RAMSEY: Cool. He wasn't no freak of nature. He was like me and you.

COOPER: So yesterday, what happened?

RAMSEY: Around 3:00, I was on my porch and the mailman put his mail in my mail. I looked at it, like here's Ariel's mail when he come home. Couple of minutes later, he pulled up. He checked the mailbox, grabbed his paper. Before he went in the house, I said, Ariel, here goes your mail. We just had the same conversation when I hand him the mail. He said, they can't get it right. I said, nope, damn postal service. That's it. He left.

I'm in my house, and man, this girl screamed like a car had hit a kid so when I got up, I saw this -- my neighbor across the street, he run across the street and I'm, like -- I'm thinking, where you going. Heard that girl scream and saw him run across the street, and I went outside and wondered what he was doing, and -- Amanda said, I'm stuck in here, help get me out. So he -- guy don't know English that well or panicked, he just looked at me and it was like, it's a girl.

And she's like I've been trapped in here, he won't let me out, me and my baby. I said well, we ain't going to talk no more, come on. I'm trying to get the door open, I can't, because he had torture chambered it some kind of way and locked it up, right? So I did what I had to do and kicked the bottom of the door, and she crawled out of it. She grabs her baby, which threw me off, all right, so fine. I got some girl and her kid.

COOPER: And what did she look like? I mean, what was she wearing?

RAMSEY: Jumpsuit. She had a white tank top on, rings on, mascara. You know, she was well groomed. She didn't look like -- she didn't look like she was kidnapped. That's what I'm saying.

COOPER: And you'd never seen her before?

RAMSEY: Bro --

COOPER: In the year that you had been there?

RAMSEY: Bro, that man -- listen, never. That woman didn't come out the house. The only kids that came out the house were two little girls. They played in the backyard. The neighborhood knows them as his grandchildren.

COOPER: Amanda Berry then, what, asked to call 911?

RAMSEY: Mm-hmm. And I took her to my house.

COOPER: When you first saw her and she said the name Amanda Berry, did it --

RAMSEY: It didn't -- I didn't know. Because I forgot. Bro, this is Cleveland. Since they haven't found that girl.

COOPER: Right.

RAMSEY: And I guess stopped looking for that girl, we figured that girl was -- met her demise.

COOPER: Right.

COOPER: Do you feel like a hero?


COOPER: Because there's a lot of people, they're saying you're a hero.


RAMSEY: No, no, no. Bro, I'm a Christian, an American, and just like you. We bleed same blood, put our pants on the same way. It's just that you got to put that -- being a coward, and I don't want to get in nobody's business. You got to put that away for a minute.

COOPER: Because you know how it is. There's a lot of people who turn away.


RAMSEY: You have to have cajones, bro.

COOPER: Keep walking down on the street.

RAMSEY: That's all what it's about. It's about cajones on this planet.

COOPER: Has the FBI said anything about a reward or anything? Because there was that -- there was a reward for finding her.

RAMSEY: I tell you what you do, give it to them. That little girl came out the house and she was crying. And I'm looking at her, right, I'm like your mama trying to help you, girl, shut up. I don't know, right. And she's like I want my daddy. And I said, who's her daddy? She said Ariel.

COOPER: She said that.

RAMSEY: Yes. I said well, how's that possible? Because you wouldn't -- if you got kidnapped, he was having sex with you? Oh, Jesus. That little girl is his? Now we want to hurt you.

COOPER: You felt that?

RAMSEY: Bro, this will be a different interview, I told you that, if we had known that. Man, I would be facing triple life. COOPER: Wow. I'm glad it turned out this way.


SAMBOLIN: We should split the credit of the rescue with Angel Cordero, another neighbor who rushed to help after hearing Amanda Berry's screams. He's getting a bit less attention, but he also played a really key role freeing these three women.

BERMAN: That's right, Zoraida, a couple of heroes.

Coming up, what is next in the investigation and the future for the newly freed kidnapping victims?



This story has gripped the entire nation since Charles Ramsey had the presence of mind to listen to a woman that he heard screaming from behind a door and for her and the other victims and their families celebrations. A lot of catching up to do and a lot of healing, which we hope and pray they will find.

For the authorities a complex investigation that continues. What was missed? What lessons can we learn from three women who lost a decade of their lives? Virtually in plain sight.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin in Cleveland.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman in New York. Thanks for joining us.