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Three Women Missing for Years Rescued in Ohio

Amber Berry hugs her sister Beth Serrano

Amber Berry hugs her sister Beth Serrano after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital Monday May 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Family Handout courtesy WOIO-TV)

Three young women who vanished in separate incidents about a decade ago have been found alive in a house in Cleveland.

Amanda Berry disappeared aged 16 in 2003, Gina DeJesus went missing aged 14 a year later, and Michelle Knight disappeared in 2002 aged around 19.

Their discovery followed a dramatic bid for freedom by Amanda Berry on Monday, helped by a neighbour.

Three brothers have been arrested in connection with the case.

City officials are to hold a news conference on Tuesday morning.

Cleveland police said the suspects are Hispanic, aged 50, 52 and 54, and one of them had lived at the house on Seymour Avenue.

One was named as Ariel Castro, who has worked as a school bus driver.

Police have said a six-year-old was also found at the home. They have not revealed any further details, although a relative of Amanda Berry said she told him she had a daughter.

The women's families reacted with shock and delight at news of their discovery, and many people gathered outside the home where they had allegedly been imprisoned.

"It's been a whirlwind kind of day. It's surreal," said Gina DeJesus' relative, Sylvia Colon. She said the family had never given up hope, holding vigils every year and keeping memorials outside the house.

"We were living every day in the hope she would come home - and she did," she told the BBC.

Ms Colon said the women would now "need to be given some space. They have been away from us for a very long time."

A doctor said the three women were in a fair condition and were being kept in hospital for observation.

To cheers from spectators, Dr Gerald Maloney told reporters outside Metro Health hospital in Cleveland that the women were able to speak to hospital staff, but he declined to give further details.

The disappearances of Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus had been big news in Cleveland, and many had assumed them to be dead.

Little was made of the disappearance of Michelle Knight, who was older than the other two girls.

Her grandmother, Deborah Knight, was quoted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper on Monday as saying that the authorities concluded she had run away.

'Here a long time'

The dramatic events unfolded after Amanda Berry attempted to flee the house when her alleged captor went out.

Neighbour Charles Ramsey said he heard screaming.

"I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside," he told reporters.

He said he suggested the woman open the door and exit, but she told him it was locked.

"We had to kick open the bottom," he said. "Lucky on that door it was aluminium. It was cheap. She climbed out with her daughter."

Both Mr Ramsey and Ms Berry called 911.

In her frantic call, released to the news media, Ms Berry told the operator: "I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped. I've been missing for 10 years. I'm free. I'm here now."

She identified her kidnapper as Ariel Castro and said other women were in the house.

Mr Ramsey said he was stunned by the developments. He said he had shared barbecues with Mr Castro and never suspected a thing. "There was nothing exciting about him... well, until today," he said.

An uncle, Julio Castro, who has a shop nearby, confirmed his nephew had been arrested, and said Ariel Castro had worked as a school bus driver. The Cleveland school district confirmed he worked for them, but did not give specifics.

In an extraordinary twist, it emerged that Ariel Castro's son - also called Ariel although he now goes by his middle name Anthony - wrote an article about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus for his local newspaper in 2004.

Anthony confirmed to a journalist that he had written about the neighbourhood's heightened concern for safety in the Cleveland Plain Press, and told her that Monday's developments were "beyond comprehension."

"He was stunned that something like this could possible happen," WKYC reporter Sara Shookman told CNN.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has said an investigation into the "many unanswered questions regarding this case" will be held.

High-profile cases

Ms Berry was last heard from when she called her sister on 21 April 2003 to say she would get a lift home from work at a Burger King restaurant.

In 2004, Ms DeJesus was said to be on her way home from school when she went missing.

Their cases were re-opened last year when a prison inmate tipped off authorities that Ms Berry may have been buried in Cleveland. He received a four-and-a-half-year sentence in prison for the false information.

Amanda Berry's mother, Louwana, died in March 2006, three years after her daughter's disappearance.

Although much is still not yet known about this case, it recalled a series of recent high-profile child abduction cases.

Jaycee Lee Dugard was 11 years old when she was dragged into a car as she walked to a bus stop near her home in South Lake Tahoe, California in 1991.

She was discovered in August 2009, having spent 18 years held captive in the backyard of Phillip and Nancy Garrido in Antioch, some 170 miles from South Lake Tahoe. She had two children.

In Austria, Natascha Kampusch was abducted on her way to school at the age of 10. She was held for eight years by Wolfgang Priklopil in the windowless basement of a house in a quiet suburb of Vienna.

She managed to escape in 2006 while Priklopil was making a phone call. He committed suicide hours after she had fled.

Elizabeth Smart was 14 when she was taken from the bedroom of her Utah home in June 2002 and repeatedly raped during nine months of captivity.

She was rescued in March 2003 less than 20 miles from her home. Her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was jailed for life in 2011.

Categories: Criminal Justice