Cleveland Community Ponders Decade-Old Kidnapping Case
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's now been a week since three women escaped from a partially boarded-up home in a neighborhood of Cleveland. Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus were kidnapped more than a decade ago, and they are now free. The accused, Ariel Castro, is behind bars facing multiple charges, including kidnapping and rape. After being in the national spotlight, the neighborhood where all this took place is much quieter now, but residents are having a difficult time moving on. From member station WCPN, Nick Castele reports.
NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: On Saturday, work crews nailed plywood over the windows of Ariel Castro's house and began to put up a fence to preserve any possible evidence. Just one week ago, jubilant crowds gathered here to marvel at and celebrate the women's rescue. Now, city councilman Brian Cummins is talking about protecting the home from vandals.
BRIAN CUMMINS: There's been rumors, comments, from community members, threats of burning the house down.
CASTELE: Many neighbors here say they're frustrated and perplexed, some even ashamed that they never figured out that the missing women were being held here all along. Joseph Mandry lives down the street, and on Saturday night he was talking with friends and looking at the house on Seymour Avenue. He says he remembers seeing Castro at cookouts and Christmas parties. Mandry says some people think the national attention is giving their neighborhood a bad name.
JOSEPH MANDRY: There's plenty of people angry about this, you know. They wish they knew way before.
CASTELE: But Mandry insists there's no way he could have known about the three women. He says Castro worked too hard to conceal his crimes. At a Saturday rally, Maria Davila is pinning a ribbon to her son's shirt and says she also remembers seeing Castro at neighborhood events.
MARIA DAVILA: It's embarrassing for the community to have to deal with such a travesty. Like, such a monster, he was just out in public, and everyone saw him. We all knew him. And then all of a sudden, you know, we find out this.
CASTELE: And she says she worries that Hispanics like her will now be viewed in a different light.
DAVILA: Times like this is when you really don't want to be Hispanic.
CASTELE: Omar Medina, a local evangelical pastor, has come to Seymour Avenue to pray for the women's recovery. He says Cleveland's Hispanic community won't be defined by this. But he concedes the realization that the women went unnoticed in a neighbor's home for so long could shake people's ability to trust one another.
OMAR MEDINA: We usually tell our kids, Don't trust strangers. But here we have a situation where he was not a stranger. Everybody in that community knew him.
CASTELE: Councilman Brian Cummins sees a possible connection between the abandoned homes in the neighborhood and the frustration residents feel in this hardscrabble part of town.
CUMMINS: I mean, it's commonplace now for people to be living in a street and to look at a house that's either partially boarded, has possibly windows broken on the second floor because the city does not board up second-floor windows.
CASTELE: But just down the street is a booming restaurant brewery district and other development projects are in the works. Some here are also troubled that the police didn't find the women so much as the women found police. One of the women, Michelle Knight, was removed from an FBI missing persons list because police couldn't confirm she was still missing.
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CASTELE: In honor of Michelle Knight, about a hundred residents marched toward Seymour Avenue on Saturday, carrying balloons shouting her name. But they were also shouting for the people who are still missing.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Who are we marching for?
CROWD: Michelle. And the missing.
CASTELE: Omar Medina, the pastor, says it's all the reason more for the community to welcome police to block clubs and into churches and events.
MEDINA: Keep them engaged all of the time, and hold them more accountable.
CASTELE: Like others here, he sees this as an opportunity to make this neighborhood a closer one. For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland.
GREENE: Nick reports for member station WCPN.
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