Cleveland Community Wonders How Abducted Women Were Held For So Long

Originally published on May 9, 2013 11:43 am



It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

When you consider the amazing discovery of three kidnapped women living in Cleveland, two thoughts come to mind about the neighborhood. The first is about the decency of Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who rescued Amanda Berry as she tried to escape.

INSKEEP: A natural second thought is to wonder if the women were held prisoner for a decade, how could it be that nobody saved them sooner?

GREENE: And people in Cleveland are asking that same question. Some say they did report accounts of strange behavior at that house. At least two neighbors called police on separate occasions - which is why the mood in that neighborhood is a mix of happiness and questioning.

Here's David C. Barnett from member station WCPN.

DAVID C. BARNETT, BYLINE: Seymour Avenue runs through a tree-lined, working class neighborhood on Cleveland's west side. Helicopters hover above the house at 2207, with lines of yellow police tape draped around the front and a procession of investigators removing boxes into waiting vans.

But a couple days ago, this home didn't really stand out at all. Robert Murray looks perplexed because the stories he's heard about what happened in that house don't jibe with the street that he knows. Or thought he knew.

ROBERT MURRAY: I must have went down this street a thousand times in the last 10 years.

BARNETT: And he says the community has taken great strides. He's seen the housing project torn down and new buildings go up.

MURRAY: When I was a kid, the neighborhood was considered a slum. And I was thinking of moving out about six, seven years ago. And then they did all this stuff, and I'm like, you know what? Might as well stay, it's nice now.

BARNETT: Tamika Page doesn't have such a rosy view of the neighborhood. She's seen an increase in the homeless population and an expanding landscape of foreclosed properties. And then you add the discovery of three young women on this street who have been held captive in that house.

TAMIKA PAGE: It's just terrifying because I mean I have a nine-year-old daughter and like this is just showing people you don't know who your next door neighbor is. You really don't. You know, if you're not very conscious and aware of your surroundings, you know, things like this could occur, things like this can happen.

BARNETT: When Page was at her daughter's age, the street was different - more friendly. She says people talked to each other and made a point of welcoming new neighbors. That's something she doesn't see now.

PAGE: Most people don't talk. Most people come out (unintelligible) you don't take the time out to get to meet your neighbor, say hello. People just come and look and they keep going.

BARNETT: Juan Perez lives two houses away from the home of accused kidnapper Ariel Castro.

JUAN PEREZ: He was just - he was just awesome. He was nice. He was - I was here. I met him at five, at seven years old, he asked me how's school. When I was 14, you have a girlfriend? Seventeen - college? You know, he was just a great neighbor. Now I know that was all a mask, that was all a front.

BARNETT: He says the neighborhood kids loved Castro, because he gave them rides down the street in his all-terrain vehicle. But upon reflection, Perez allows that there might have been one red flag.

PEREZ: I never really saw him have company. Nobody on the block ever went to his house. Such a social person - he never had a barbeque, really.

BARNETT: Juan Perez has been trying to sort out the contradictions, over the past couple days.

PEREZ: I wish I could say I was ecstatic that they found the girls. I'm happy that they're OK, but I felt - I felt a tug in my heart. I felt that I did not help, I did not know. Ten years? It's like - and I know I'm not the only one on the block that thinks like that. We're torn between happy and ashamed.

MURRAY: Richard Rodriguez has grown up with this story. He went to elementary school with Gina DeJesus and a friend of his dated Amanda Berry. He's wondered what happened to those girls all these years and what his friend Gina has gone through.

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: She was going into high school, she was ready to start her life. And then now when I see this, like - and I'm like 20 years old, like all the things I've experienced, all the work I've done, like she's missed out on all of this stuff.

BARNETT: Nearby, Tamika Page's daughter Spirit darts between rows of TV cameras from around the world trained on the white two-story house at 2207 Seymour. At one point she dashes back to her mother, who puts her arms around the child and pulls her close.

PAGE: I'm glad that the nightmare is over for the girls.

BARNETT: But the time of self-reflection for a shaken community has only begun.

For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.