- (Photo: Reuters/FBI)
The city of Cleveland, Ohio, has been reveling in yesterday's discovery of three women, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus, who went missing around 10 years ago and were reportedly being held captive at a home just a few miles from where they previously lived.
One person celebrating their return is Gale Mitchell, aunt to Amanda Berry, now 27, who went missing in April 2003 after finishing a work shift at Burger King, one day before her 17th birthday.
Mitchell said in a recent interview that she never gave up hope that Berry would be found, and that she used her faith to guide her through the decade she spent unsure of her niece's whereabouts.
"My daughter had a feeling she was still alive," Mitchell recently told CNN, referencing Berry's cousin.
"So did I. You don't give up hope; you just pray and pray and pray," Mitchell added.
Mitchell additionally told local news outlet WOIO that she "[couldn't] wait to talk to [Amanda], I can't wait to hold her, to see her."
"It's crazy. I always knew that Amanda was a strong-willed person and eventually I knew she would get out of there. I just knew it. I just wondered 'Why not sooner?'" Mitchell questioned.
Berry is one of the three women found in a modest home in a low-income neighborhood on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland's West Side on Monday.
The other two are Gina DeJesus, who disappeared at age 14 in April 2004 while walking home from school, and Michelle Knight, who disappeared at age 20 in August 2002.
DeJesus' family also maintained hope that their missing child would reappear, reportedly posting Facebook comments as recent as March pleading with DeJesus' captor to let her go.
"If you don't believe in miracles, I suggest you think again," Sandra Ruiz, DeJesus' aunt, told local news station WJW on Tuesday.
The three women were freed Monday evening when neighbor Charles Ramsey saw Berry screaming and kicking at the front door.
Ramsey ran up to the house and helped Berry escape, loaning the young woman his cell phone so that she may call 911.
Cleveland police arrived at the 2200 block of Seymour Avenue to find Berry, DeJesus and Mitchell all being held captive in the house.
Berry also had a 6-year-old child with her, who was reportedly conceived and birthed during her captivity.
Three brothers, Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, have been arrested as suspects in the kidnapping of the three women, and they are expected to be charged within the next 36 hours.
Although police have remained rather quiet on what they discovered inside the home where the women were kept, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath told reporters on Monday that he believes the women had been tied up inside the house against their will since their teens.
For many in Cleveland, Monday's events close the chapter on a decade of searching for three missing women.
In 2005, DeJesus and Berry were featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted," and police followed multiple dead-end leads in an attempt to find the girls, to no avail.
Knight didn't gain as much media attention as the other two girls because she disappeared when she was 20, and reportedly investigators didn't rule out the possibility that she had run off on her own will.
Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI in Cleveland, told reporters that a decade's-worth of prayers "had finally been answered" after Monday's discovery.
"Prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over,'' Anthony said. ''These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin.''
Some, however, are questioning the Cleveland Police Department's effectiveness in searching for the missing girls, as neighbors claim they made multiple calls to police in the past regarding suspicious activity at the home, yet the three women were never found.
According to Reuters, police claimed to have visited the home in 2004 on an issue unrelated to the women's disappearance, but their records show no other reports of suspicious activity at the home.
"We have no indication that any of the neighbors, bystanders, witnesses or anyone else has ever called regarding any information, regarding activity that occurred at that house on Seymour Avenue," Mayor Frank Jackson said at news conference on Tuesday.