CLEVELAND - Tuesday marks one year since three women who were missing for a decade were found alive in the Seymour Avenue home where Ariel Castro kept them captive. One year later, Cuyahoga County investigators and leaders are reflecting on the case.
It is still hard for Special Agents with the Cleveland field office to believe in the outcome.
"I remember getting the call and, have to be honest, it was six o'clock and I'm trying to get in my door and my phone's ringing and I think, Okay I'll call them back,'” said Special Agent Vicki Anderson. “Then it rings again, and I'm thinking, those were too close together — something's up. So I get out my cell phone and they say, ‘They just found Gina and Amanda,’ and I said, ‘What?’ And they said, ‘They just found Gina and Amanda and another young girl, Michelle — and they're all alive.’ And, oh my gosh, I just packed up my stuff and ran out of the house and told my family I'd be back later.”
When the news first broke, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald was skeptical. After years of hearing about leads that turned up nothing, he was worried this would only raise hopes to end up dashing them.
“My fear right away was that it was another false alarm, it was a false lead,” FitzGerald recalled, “somebody else with a sick sense of humor or some kind of bizarre agenda that was pushed out to get attention.”
But it was not a false alarm. With help from neighbors, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight managed to escape from their decade-long nightmare on Seymour, along with Amanda’s daughter who was conceived and born in captivity.
“We never gave up,” said Anderson. “That’s one thing law enforcement can’t pat themselves on the back for, saying we found these girls, because we obviously didn’t.”
But the FBI did pursue every lead and tip about Gina and Amanda for 10 years.
FitzGerald believes that attitude and perseverance is the greatest lesson from Seymour in regards to ongoing missing persons cases.
“Even if it’s not on the front page of the paper on a daily basis, this is something where the county is working on these cases each and every day,” he said.
Local and federal investigators are doing just that, treating every case with the possibility it could have a happy ending. Christina Adkins had been missing since had been missing for 18 years, until her remains were found last summer. Ashley Summers disappeared in 2007, and her family works to keep her name in the headlines.
“Every time we followed up on every lead, if it was related to Gina,” Anderson said, “we always approached it as Gina, Amanda, Ashley, Christina, anything that we could get from that lead.”
It’s been one year since Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were found alive on Seymour Avenue.
Now you can relive our breaking news and newscast coverage of the first 3 days on NewsChannel5.
On Tuesday at 10 a.m., newsnet5.com will stream 2 hours of that coverage, followed by the noon news and then live from Seymour Avenue with Leon Bibb.
We are using the hashtag #seymoursurvivors .
We also have a special section at newsnet5.com/seymoursurvivors .