CLEVELAND– Cynthia Conner spent Tuesday night the same way she’d spent Monday evening: standing in the middle of Seymour Avenue, gazing at a white house with red trim.
She watched law officials enter and leave the home. She stood with dozens of other spectators, craning to see past yellow police tape and rows of video cameras from national and local media. Time didn’t seem to matter; neither did the need for a good nights sleep before rising for work.
Conner and her neighbors milled around, trading rumors and asking questions: how could they have missed three women in plain sight?
On Monday, that home revealed its true purpose. It was the prison that held Amanda Berry, Georgina “Gina” DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The three women had been missing for years. Neighbors had held rallies, staged vigils and organized searches. But nothing broke – until Berry’s screams alerted neighbors who kicked in a door and helped her escape. The street filled with folks rejoicing that the missing women had been found alive. Three brothers were arrested: Ariel Castro, 52; Pedro Castro, 54; and Onil Castro, 50. Ariel Castro owned the home where the women were captive.
The women were taken to a local hospital and released to ecstatic families. Law enforcement officials went back to search 2207 Seymour Avenue, where the women were held in bondage for a decade.
Conner lives on Wade Avenue, a block away. Last July, police tape appeared on her street. Authorities dug up a yard looking for Berry’s corpse. But the tip was bogus and the case went cold – until Monday.
She had just come home from work when she saw the commotion.
“My cousin called me. ‘They found Gina, this time it’s for real,’ “ Conner said. “I threw my car in park, and ran over.”
When she arrived, she ran into Manuel Ortega, a friend who lives on the west side of Seymour. He’d heard the news from his baby’s mother.
“She said, ‘Something’s going on on Seymour’,” Ortega said on Tuesday. “It took me about three minutes to get here.”
Conner and Ortega joined the throng who filled the street, cheering as the women emerged from the house.
Media usually ‘shrugs’ when working class, minority girls go missing
Their rescue has captivated a media that usually shrugs when minorities or working class women go missing. Such neglect inspired Natalie Wilson to help create the Black & Missing Foundation in 2008. The organization advocates with media and law enforcement for families whose relatives are missing. Black & Missing Foundation featured Dejesus’ photo on their website. Now, that snapshot is marked “found.”
When Wilson and her sister-in-law, Derrica Wilson established the non-profit, FBI figures showed people of color comprised 30 percent of all missing persons. The figure has risen to 40 percent, Natalie Wilson said.
“Our kids are being classified as runaways,” Wilson said. “When you’re classified as a runaway, you do not get any media attention at all, and you do not receive an Amber Alert.”
Ironically, that situation dogged Michelle Knight, the third woman released with Berry and Dejesus. Knight was 20 when she disappeared in 2002. Her family said police concluded she’d left because she’d lost custody of her son.
Next: Girls’ disappearances became a local cause