/ 8 May 2013

Amanda Berry’s childhood friend: We thought she was dead

Amanda Berry's Childhood Friend: We Thought She Was Dead

Ford could only imagine the horrors she must have endured.

"For 10 years – what was he doing to her?" Ford asked on Tuesday as FBI forensic experts scoured the house in Cleveland, Ohio where Darrell and two other women were held captive for a decade until Berry's dramatic escape.

"It's just crazy," he said.

Like Berry, Ford was just a teenager when they worked together at a Burger King restaurant in a working class neighbourhood. He was working the night she disappeared: April 21 2003, the day before her 17th birthday.

"She was supposed to get a ride home," the slight young man said as his three-year-old son played with their dog at his side. "We thought she was dead the whole time."

While he was grateful Berry is alive, Ford said he was worried that she would have a hard time recovering from her ordeal.

FBI agents could be seen moving in and out of the house, removing evidence and recording the scene. Police have released few details about what Berry and fellow captives Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight endured.

They have confirmed that Berry, now 27, has a six-year-old daughter, apparently born while she was in captivity. DeJesus was 14 when she vanished on her way home from school on April 2 2004.

Knight, who was 20 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen at a cousin's house on August 23 2002, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

They were found in the home of Ariel Castro (52), a schoolbus driver, who was arrested along with his brothers: Pedro (54) and Onil (50).

The house is ordinary. American and Puerto Rican flags hang from the porch, which has rails that are stripped as though they were about to be repainted.

At least one window is boarded up, but that is not particularly unusual on a low-income street with several abandoned homes and problems with crime.

What is unusual is the twisted metal where the bottom of the front door was yanked by neighbour Charles Ramsey after he heard Berry's cries for help.

Residents at the scene said they were shocked and had no idea that the man who would sometimes grill food in his yard and share it with neighbours could have had such a grim secret locked away.

Bill McNutt (71) said he was used to crime on the street. When he heard the sirens on Monday he thought it was another drug bust. He was stunned when a neighbour told him that three women had been held captive just up the road.

"They must have kept them chained up, because 10 years, gosh," the retired computer programmer said as he leaned on the fence of a rooming house he has run since 1973.

McNutt said he didn't know Castro, but was told by other neighbours that he always parked his truck in the back of the house and never went in the front door that was Amanda Berry's eventual escape route.

Kidnap survivors offer commentary
Famous kidnapping survivors Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart had words of wisdom for the three Cleveland women 

Dugard was abducted from a California bus stop in 1991 at age 11 and held captive for 18 years in a backyard, where she gave birth to two children conceived through rape.

She made an oblique reference on Tuesday to the Cleveland case as she accepted an award in Washington from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

"What an amazing time to be talking about hope, with everything that's happening," she said in her brief remarks.

She urged the hundreds of people at the annual awards gala not to give up on missing children. "Just urge yourself to care," she said.

Dugard, in a statement released earlier through her publicist, said the women needed a chance to heal and reconnect with the world. She said that the human spirit was resilient and that the case reaffirmed that people should never give up hope.

'I feel the same relief'
Dugard's mother, Terry Probyn, said in Washington that she understood what the relatives of the Cleveland victims were going through.

"I feel the same relief and the same joy that I felt when Jaycee was returned to me safely after 18 hellish years," Probyn said. "I never doubted for one minute that I would someday be reunited with my daughter." 

John Ryan, chief executive of the centre, praised the vigilance of investigators in Cleveland, saying they followed up on tips and never forgot about the missing women.

"There are other missing children out there that are only a phone call away from getting away from their predators," Ryan said.

"I have every hope and confidence that this will lead to future recoveries." Ryan said the three women would likely be honoured by his group in the future.

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

Importance of the public
In comments on Tuesday on ABC's Good Morning America, Smart said she was overjoyed to hear about the happy ending for the Cleveland women, who escaped on Monday after being missing a decade.

She said the ordeal highlights the importance of the public staying alert and vigilant. She advised the women to focus on moving forward and let go of the past.

Smart said it was also important for others to respect the privacy of those women as they recover from the decade-long ordeal.

Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City when she was 14. She was freed nine months later when she was found walking with her captor on a suburban street in March 2003. – Sapa-AP, AFP