CLEVELAND -- As this hardscrabble city rejoices in the rescue of three young women kidnapped and imprisoned for more than a decade, law enforcement officials are beginning to sort through the physical and psychological torture they likely endured.
Cleveland police say they'll delay "deep questioning" of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight as they get acclimated to their families and freedom. While the three appear to be in good health, a disturbing tale of sexual assault, physical abuse, bondage and other horrors is already emerging.
At the same time, questions are being raised about whether local authorities may have missed not only warnings about the alleged captor, but also several chances to rescue the victims.
Police are releasing little information about Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver and erstwhile musician whose two-story, clapboard Seymour Avenue home appears to be the makeshift prison where the three women were kept.
Castro, 52, is being held on suspicion of rape and kidnapping, as are brothers Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50. One is believed to have fathered the 6-year-old girl found at the home with Berry, now 27, according to Deputy Cleveland police chief Ed Tomba.
The stranger-than-fiction ordeal with a made-for Hollywood ending may require years of healing for the victims. Investigators have a shorter time frame.
"We have several unanswered questions," Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson says. "How were they taken and how they remained undetected in the city of Cleveland for this period of time?"
The Castro brothers allegedly forced all three women to have sex, resulting in up to five pregnancies, according to a report by Cleveland's WKYC-TV. The station, quoting unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that the Castros also beat the women while they were pregnant, with several unborn children not surviving. Police did not publicly confirm the report. (Ariel Castro was also arrested on a domestic violence charge in 1993 but was not prosecuted.)
A law enforcement official said there is some evidence that the victims were held in chains during at least part of their captivity. The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, did not elaborate on other conditions of their confinement or whether they were ever moved from the home.
In addition, Khalid Samad, a former assistant safety director for the city, said law enforcement officials told him that the women were beaten while pregnant, with unborn children not surviving, and that a dungeon of sorts with chains was in the home. Samad, who works with a crime prevention non-profit group, said he saw the women at the hospital Monday night. His description and other sourced information was not commented upon publicly by officials Tuesday night.
Investigators from the FBI, Cleveland Police and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department are poring over Ariel Castro's West Cleveland home - located in a working class neighborhood less than a mile from where the victims were abducted. Officials dressed in white-paper body suits and blue gloves emerged periodically from the backyard Tuesday afternoon. Investigators have yet to excavate Castro's yard.
"They are going through the place with a fine tooth comb," Cleveland Police Sgt. Sammy Morris said.
Local police face some questions of their own. As the victims were being held captive, police visited Castro's home several times. In January 2004, police arrived as part of a child services investigation when Castro - then working as a school bus driver - stranded a boy. They left when no one answered the door. No criminal charges were filed.
Neighbors said Tuesday that they also notified police several times. Morris confirmed local police had contact with Ariel Castro on two occasions. But City Safety Director Martin Flask said that investigators had no record of any tips or calls about criminal activity at the house in the years after the victims vanished.
Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away from Castro, said her daughter saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in Castro's backyard several years ago. Cintron said she called police, "but they didn't take it seriously," Cintron said.
Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said that in November 2011, his sister, Annita, heard pounding on an upper-floor window at Castro's house. When Annita Lugo looked up, she saw a woman and a baby at a window half-blocked by a wooden plank. Lugo called police. He said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered.
"They walked to the side of the house and then left," Lugo said.
Lugo said that about a year later, his mother, Elsie Cintron, called police because Castro would park his school bus in front of their home and bring bags full of McDonald's fast food to his home. They wondered why he needed so much food, Lugo said. Police again responded but didn't enter the home.
Last Sunday, Lugo said he saw Castro at a nearby park with the girl police believe is Berry's daughter. Castro told him the girl was his girlfriend's daughter. Lugo, who lives two doors down, has known Castro for 18 years and said they barbecued together on holidays and hung out frequently until about three years ago, when Castro began keeping to himself. Lugo said he was never in Castro's house. "He never let anyone inside his yard," Lugo said. "He took us all for fools."
Castro purchased the four-bedroom home from relatives for $12,000 in April 1992, according to Cuyahoga County Auditor's records. It's currently valued at $36,100, although county records indicate Castro owes $2,501 in back taxes. The house, adorned by U.S. and Puerto Rican flags, is now in foreclosure.
Jay Owens, who lives behind Castro's home, said he never heard or saw anything suspicious. But Owens, who has three preteen daughters, says he's angered by the news he has heard.
"It's unbelievable. "Whatever he did, he did a good job," Owens said, shaking his head.
The coverup ended early Monday evening when a frantic Berry cracked open a door and yelled for help. Neighbor Charles Ramsey heard her through a door barely ajar. "I heard screaming,'' said neighbor Ramsey. "I'm eating my McDonald's. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house."
After kicking out a screen in the door with Ramsey's assistance, Berry, dressed in pajamas and sandals, tearfully used a borrowed cellphone to call 911.
"I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm freed now," said Berry. She disappeared on April 21, 2003 - a day before her 17th birthday - after telling her sister she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King.
DeJesus, then 14, disappeared in 2004 on her way home from school. Knight, then 20, disappeared in August 2002. She was last seen at her cousin's home.
Signs at Berry's house said, "We never lost hope" and "Wish it, Dream it, Do it."
Berry's cousin, Michael Sneed, said the family kept hope by frequently mentioning her name and including her in dinner table conversations. They also held vigils and were vocal about wanting to find Berry. "We tried to keep it as alive as we could," Sneed said.
After DeJesus vanished, her mother, Nancy Ruiz, did as Amanda Berry's mother, Louwana Miller, did a year earlier. She filed a missing person's report. Ruiz also organized searches and talked to the media to keep her child's name and image in the public's view. Their story was also told on TV crime show America's Most Wanted.
Miller had gifts waiting for the teen every Christmas, but she died in 2006 at 44. Tuesday's reunion photos show Amanda and her sister, Beth Serrano.
While the three victims finally have a taste of freedom, adjusting to normal life is going to be difficult, therapists say.
"It's going to be a long-term struggle," says psychologist Rona Fields, who has treated torture victims.
Fields expects the trio will experience post-traumatic stress, self-esteem problems and difficulty making decisions. They also may have trouble reconnecting with family members they haven't seen in years. "I would like to be able to say, 'Oh, they are going to be fine. Give them some warmth and love and chicken soup,'" she says. "But in reality, that isn't the case."
Fields and Peter Suedfeld, a psychologist who specializes in adaptation to stressful environments, say the women will need intensive therapy. "It's highly likely they'll have post-traumatic stress syndrome," Suedfeld says. "My advice would be to let them get used to things gradually."
Yamiche Alcindor and Gary Strauss, USA TODAY