CLEVELAND - On the year anniversary since Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight broke free from captivity at 2207 Seymour Avenue, I find myself wondering…if someone had told me a year ago what was about to transpire on May 6, 2013, would I have believed them?
The answer is simply no. Never in a million years did I or anyone else ever think they were right here in Cleveland — and in the same house nonetheless.
We often say in our newsroom, “The stories we make up in our minds are always better than what happens in real life.” The stories of Amanda and Gina, however, proved to be the exception.
For years we had suspected that they could have been taken by the same person, or the same group of people. Most of us believed that they were still alive, but that they had been smuggled into a human trafficking ring, possibly never to be heard from again.
This year, I find myself re-tracing my own steps on the assignment desk here at NewsChannel5 where I had been for the entire time that the girls were missing — looking at old files, old notes, wondering how two missing person cases that received so much time and attention were never technically ‘solved.’
In the time I’ve been here at the station, we’ve gone from old-fashioned newspaper clippings and paper files to electronic files. I’ve done a lot of cleaning up of old files over the years, but I never threw out my paper files on Amanda and Gina. I always thought they were still out there somewhere.
A year later, it terrifies me to think that had Amanda not have seized the opportunity to beat down the front door on Seymour Avenue, we would likely still not know what happened to her or Gina. We wouldn’t know Michelle Knight at all.
I remember the week that Amanda disappeared. We received a call on the news desk from Amanda’s aunt. She called us on Amanda’s birthday and told us that Amanda didn’t come home from work at Burger King the night before. She told us that Amanda didn’t take any money with her, that she was homeschooled and had no prior history of running away. (Sadly, we take a lot of calls at the news desk for missing 16-year-old girls, most of the time the girls are runaways — but for some reason, this one seemed different).
We talked with Amanda’s mom, Louwana Miller, shortly after and reporter Paul Kiska ran our first story about her disappearance that week when the FBI began to get involved with the case.
Almost exactly one year later, we received word from the Cleveland Police Department that a 14-year-old girl from Wilbur Wright Middle School did not make it home after school. She was last seen a couple of blocks away from the same area where Amanda disappeared a year ago. From that point forward, the cases of Amanda and Gina were linked together.
What struck me most over the 10-year period was the tenacity of the Berry/Miller and DeJesus/Ruiz families. I don’t think they ever turned down an interview request. You could see the exhaustion on their faces every time we talked to them, but they knew that any opportunity to get their message out meant that their beloved daughters would not be forgotten and would hopefully be found. A year later it breaks my heart that we never had any rallies to cover for Michelle Knight; we never talked to Michelle’s family — until May 6, 2013, we didn’t even know she was missing.
Of all of the affected families, I specifically remember Amanda’s mom, Louwana Miller. She would call our assignment desk any time she had an update or a rally for Amanda. Every time she called, she would say, “This is Louwana Miller, I’m Amanda Berry’s mom.” It always made me smile, because she didn’t need to explain who she was. We had never forgotten Amanda’s story.
It broke my heart when I learned of Miller’s illness. The thought of her passing without ever knowing what happened to her daughter was difficult to imagine.
Just days before Louwana’s passing we received a phone call from a family friend named Terry who was with her in the hospital. Terry read us a poem and asked us to take it down:
A gift is given and can't be taken away,
With a little prayer and faith he'll see the way.
Remember the smile and don't look down,
For our memories of laughter needs no frown.
Although we can't see each other face to face,
Know that I am always there in that little space.
Miller’s love for her daughter was obvious to anyone who spent five minutes talking with her. Perhaps it was that same sense of love and responsibility that Amanda inherited from her own mother that motivated her to break down that door in an effort to save her own little girl.
In the past year, I've found that the news of the women found alive not only touched all of us in the newsroom, but also everyone who followed their stories over the years from home.
In addition to my work here at NewsChannel5 I also direct the ice skating program for the city of Brooklyn. Each year we have a group of young skaters who participate in a Performance Ensemble.
At the beginning of the season, we decided to do a routine in honor of Amanda, Gina and Michelle. (Our rink sits just a little over two miles east of where the three women were abducted).
The girls skated to a song called 'Mothers of the Disappeared.' Here is their performance: