Cleveland's Seymour Avenue tries to find its footing again now that house of horror is gone

Notorious house destroyed; life returns to area

CLEVELAND - It is gone now. Its three floors and basement felt the heft of the excavator which bit into the roof of the house where three Cleveland women had been kidnapped, held, raped and violated in many other ways for a decade. 

The operator of the huge excavator opened the jaws of the machinery and bit deeply into the house of horrors on Cleveland's Seymour Avenue as a crowd of residents, reporters, public officials, and police watched.  However, the operator of the equipment was not the first to attack the house once owned by Ariel Castro, who was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years for what he did to the three women and the child who was born to one of them while in captivity.

The first attack on the house went to an aunt of Gina DeJesus, one of the three women. With the aunt's hands on the controls, the machine operator allowed Peggy Arida to take the first shot. The huge jaws of the excavator responded and pounded the roof of 2207 Seymour Avenue.

"I guess because I had so much anger inside of me, I wanted to do it," said Arida. "It felt great. It felt like the house of horror coming down," she concluded.

Arida spoke for many thousands of people who have followed the tragic story of the the captivities of DeJesus, Amanda Berry, and Michelle Knight. Michelle was there as the frame house came tumbling down. Clearly, she has been the most visible of the three women since they escaped. When the old frame house lost its roof and the excavator ripped into the second floor, Knight talked briefly about why she chose to return to the scene of the horror which rocked her world for 11 years.

"Because no one was there for me when I was missing," she said, speaking with the strong voice she used when she bravely faced Castro in his sentencing hearing. She spoke within sight of the house where she had been confined. She referred to mothers praying for the return of their  missing children.

"They can have strength and they can have hope and their child will come back," said Knight.

Within a short time, the entire house was down. Those who wanted to see lined the sidewalks of the street on the near west side of Cleveland. They remembered the first time special attention had been paid to the house where Castro kept the captives chained in rooms. That was only three months before the day of the excavator.

Certainly, someone will plant grass on that plot of ground while public officials, neighborhood residents, and probably, the three women decide what should be placed at that location. There have been suggestions of a park, some kind of reference to the strength of the women who survived horrible conditions at the hand of a horrible man. Whatever goes there should be given strong and compassionate thought.

However, before anything is built there, life will make its move. In the soil of the property will sprout life.  Perhaps dandelions or other wildflowers. Perhaps a neighborhood resident will drop some flower seeds into fertile soil and watch developing shoots which will climb through soil, stretching for sunlight and gentle rains.   Certainly, some will strew grass seeds across the spot where so much horror went before.

Soon, the news media with their satellite trucks will disappear from Seymour Avenue, just as the news media backed away from Cleveland's Imperial Avenue, where Anthony Sowell killed 11 women, hiding their bodies in and outside his house.  

After the arrests of both Sowell and Castro, both the Imperial and Seymour Avenue houses were surrounded by high chain link fences. The fences were to protect the houses from unauthorized hands because the structures were evidence in the legal cases of Sowell and Castro.

Imperial Avenue has tried to find its footing again. The people who live in that southeast Cleveland  neighborhood now drive by an empty lot where once Sowell's house of murder stood. After Sowell was sentenced to death, the Imperial Avenue house felt the grunt of an excavator in 2011. Both it and the fence which once surrounded it are gone, although they are still in the memories of those who saw them.

Once the Seymour site is cleared of all the debris and the fence surrounding it is removed, Seymour Avenue will try to find its footing again. It will take its steps in concert with the three women who are are looking to find their footing again. The house that was on Seymour Avenue will exist only in the memories of those who witnessed the events in Summer of 2013. But the house itself has disappeared.

Soon, the leaves will begin their seasonal change on Seymour. The trees will turn to brown, orange, red, and gold, and release their offerings to pepper the ground with autumn's crunch. The leaves will not fall on the roof of the house as they had done over the generations, including the more than ten years' confinement of Amanda, Gina, and Michelle because that house is gone.

"I'm glad the house is getting torn down," said Jannette Gomez, neighborhood resident, as the excavator ripped through

what was Castro's house. "It brings lots of bad memories so this is the best thing they can do," said Gomez. She suggested there be built a garden or a park.

That is a good idea which will probably unfold in reality. Cleveland's political figures have spoken so much of what needs to happen at the site, they will have to follow through with their recommendations. Michelle Knight mentioned the inclusion of the statue of an angel somewhere on the site - an appropriate thought because angels hovered over the three women and allowed Amanda Berry to pound on a door and get the attention of neighbors who encouraged her to kick out the panel of a door and escape to freedom.

Amanda was not the only one kicking through the door. There was an angel with her.

Gardens and parks are places where there is life, and growth, and renewal. The snows of winter may come, but eventually, spring struggles through the harshness of our lives just as surely as Amanda Berry struggled through that door, which brought in police to rescue Gina and Michelle.

Perhaps spring has already come on Seymour Avenue - not only for the three women and their families, but also for the street itself which has weathered the long winter of discontent.

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