Cleveland kidnapping: Freed captive Amanda Berry home at last – but the healing will take years

An ecstatic welcome for Amanda Berry cannot erase the horrors of the past decade

Amanda Berry, whose dramatic escape after more than a decade in captivity alerted the world to the  horrors of life inside  2207 Seymour Avenue, has returned home to her family. A motorcade brought Ms Berry, who was 16 when she vanished and is now 27, to the back door of her sister’s house in Cleveland at noon today. With her for the homecoming was Amanda’s six-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, who was born in captivity.

Balloons decorated the front porch, creating a fiesta-like atmosphere. “Welcome Home Amanda”, a banner read. A crowd of reporters stood in the street outside hoping to catch their first sight of Ms Berry and hear her speak. Instead, it was her sister, Beth Serrano, who emerged to make a brief statement to express thanks for the community’s support and ask for privacy.

Amanda’s father, John Berry, told reporters that he had briefly spoken to his daughter on Tuesday. “I didn’t think she was dead. No, never,” he said. “Keep hope. Keep hope. Don’t give up till you know because I never gave up.” Mr Berry said he believed Amanda’s “rough and tough” personality kept her alive during her ordeal. “There’s no way to explain. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Best feeling I ever had,” he said of his daughter’s release.

Earlier in the day Amanda had spoken to her grandmother for the first time since she vanished in 2003. Like any other call from a young woman to a relative she has lost touch with, the conversation was stilted and polite. But this also had a different dimension. “I’m glad to have you back,” Fern Gentry mumbled from her home in Elizabethton, Tennessee, fighting back the tears. “I am glad to be back,” Amanda replied.

The intrusion of a camera into Ms Gentry’s living room made us all voyeurs at that moment, more poignant than many of us can imagine.  Many of Amanda’s relatives, including her father, now live in Tennessee; some of her younger cousins only know her through pictures and family stories.

Experts in the field and survivors of similar crimes agree that the three women released from the dilapidated house on Monday now face a tough battle to cope with life on the outside. “Diagnostically, we are looking at post-traumatic stress disorder in its severest form,” Herbert Nieberg, associate professor of law and justice at Mitchell College in Connecticut, told ABC’s Good Morning America. “Not only were they held in captivity, but nobody picked up on it and that makes people feel hopeless.”

Even today it was hard to guess how the women of Seymour Avenue might begin the process of recovery, with so many details of what they endured in the house still missing.

In an interview with NBC, Michael McGrath, the Cleveland police chief, said the women had been restrained with ropes and chains – lengths of both were among hundreds of items removed from the house – and had only occasionally been allowed out into the back yard. He added, however, that the physical condition of the women was “very good, considering the circumstances”. While the embrace of family may help Ms Berry and Gina DeJesus, who disappeared near their homes in Cleveland in 2003 and 2004, a colder world may be greeting the third woman, Michelle Knight. When she went missing in 2002 most of her family thought she had run away. Reports suggest that she is now suffering from impaired hearing and has damage to her facial bones as a result of the beatings she received at No 2207. Her mother flew from her home in Naples, Florida, to Ohio in the hope of reuniting with her daughter, but Michele was said to be resistant to any meeting. Accompanying her was Michele’s 10-year-old half-sister, who Michele has never met.

A brother, Freddie, told reporters that he also wanted his mother to stay away. “I don’t like my mum, I hate my mum,” he said. Speaking to reporters before she left, Mrs Knight offered a different perspective. “I love you and I missed you all this time,” she said of Michele. “Hopefully whatever happened between us, if something did, I hope that it heals. I don’t want to leave her in Cleveland.”

The authorities continued to stress the need to give the women time to process the previous 48 hours before they are asked for details of what they suffered, which may include sexual enslavement and other forms of psychological and physical abuse, starvation and unwanted pregnancies.

In that call to her grandmother, Ms Berry confirmed for the first time that the six-year-old girl who emerged from the house with her was her child, conceived while she was a prisoner. Jocelyn was born on Christmas Day, Ms Gentry was told. Police will now attempt to establish the identity of Jocelyn’s father via DNA tests.

“They will have a new life. But in some respects, that could be traumatic too,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said. “What can we as a city do to help them? Give them room.”

Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped, aged 14, from her Salt Lake City home in 2002, counselled the women not to let Ariel Castro – the main suspect in the case along with his brothers Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50 “ruin another second of their lives”.

“He’s stolen so much from them already,” she said. “They don’t need to relive everything that’s happened because their rescue is proof there are good people out there, more good people than not.”

Timeline: Escape from hell

23 August 2002: Michele Knight, 20, disappears. She is last seen near her cousin’s house on West 106th Street and Lorain Avenue.

21 April 2003: Amanda Berry, 16, fails to return home from work at a Cleveland Burger King. She is last seen near West 110th Street and Lorain Avenue.

January 2004: Police knock on the door of 2207 Seymour Avenue – the house belonging to Ariel Castro – about three miles from the area where Ms Knight and Ms Berry were last seen. No one answers the door. Castro, a school bus driver, had been accused of leaving a child on a bus without supervision. When police did speak to him, they found no criminal intent and let the case drop.

4 April 2004: Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, 14, fails to return home from school. She is last seen near West 105th and Lorain Avenue.

2 March 2005: Louwana Miller, mother of Amanda Berry, dies of heart failure. Her family said her health had deteriorated since her daughter’s disappearance and that she died of a “broken heart”.

13 April 2009: The FBI says it believes the disappearances of Ms Berry and Ms DeJesus may be linked to that of 14-year-old Ashley Nicole Summers, and that they may all have been kidnapped by the same person. Ashley was last seen on 6 July 2007, and her case remains unsolved.

6 May 2013: Ms Berry, now 27, makes a daring escape from 2207 Seymour Avenue. Moments later, police find Ms DeJesus, 23, and Ms Knight, 32, in the same house. Ms Berry’s daughter, six-year-old Jocelyn, who is believed to have been born in captivity, also escapes. Ariel Castro, 52, and his brothers Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, are  arrested.

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