The escape of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus from their imprisonment in a Cleveland home after going missing years before has captivated people worldwide. Here's a timeline of major events, from the first disappearance more than a decade ago, to Berry's frantic 911 call on May 6, 2013, to the case of accused kidnapper Ariel Castro.
Major events in the case:
Sept. 3, 2013: Ariel Castro is found hanged in his cell around 9:20 p.m. ET at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, a community south of Columbus in central Ohio. Prison medical staff performed CPR before Castro was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Castro's death prompted reviews into how he managed to hang himself with a bedsheet while in protective custody. He was checked every 30 minutes by prison staff, but was not on suicide watch, which entails constant observation.
Aug. 1, 2013: Ariel Castro is sentenced by Judge Michael Russo, receiving a sentence of a life term with no chance of parole plus 1,000 years.
Castro told the court, ""People are trying to hate me as a monster and I'm not a monster… I’m sick," adding that said he believes he's "addicted to porn to the point that I am impulsive and I don’t realize that what I do is wrong." He also said, "most of the sex that went on in the house, and probably all of it, was consensual."
Before Castro spoke, Michelle Knight, one of his three victims, described "11 years of hell" after her kidnapping at age 21, and being locked up in the home she shared with the other two victims, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, who weren't present in court. In her emotional victim impact statement, Knight said, "Now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that has happened. I will not let you define me or affect who I am. I will live on; you will die a little every day."
July 26, 2013: Days before the scheduled Aug. 5 start of his trial, Ariel Castro, accused of kidnapping three women and keeping them captive in his Cleveland home for nearly a decade, secures a plea deal on the 977 charges against him. In exchange for the guilty plea, Castro receives a sentence of life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years, prosecutors said.
Negotiations had hinged on whether the prosecutor would rule out the death penalty as the defence has demanded.
When asked if he understood he would never be released from prison, Castro said: "I do understand that, your honour." He added, "I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me."
July 12, 2013: Ariel Castro is charged with hundreds of additional counts covering the entire time period of the alleged imprisonment, raising the total number of counts from 329 to 977. The indictment lists charges of rape and kidnapping and two counts of aggravated murder on accusations that Castro starved and punched one of the women while she was pregnant until she miscarried. It includes 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, six counts of felonious assault, three counts of child endangerment and one count of possessing criminal tools.
The indictment does not include charges that could carry a death sentence, but Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said he is still reserving that option.
July 9, 2013: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight break their public silence in a three-minute, 30-second video posted on YouTube. In the video that was filmed July 2, the women thank the public for the encouragement and financial support that are allowing them to restart their lives. In the video, the women are smiling and appear upbeat.
In a statement, Kathy Joseph, Knight's attorney, says the three women wanted to "say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world, now that two months have passed." James Wooley, an attorney for Berry and DeJesus, also issues a statement saying Knight and his clients thank people for the privacy they've been given and do not want to discuss their case with the news media or anyone else.
June 19, 2013: Judge Michael Russo says he is aiming to begin the trial of Ariel Castro by Aug. 5, meeting a 90-day speedy trial requirement. The same day, lawmakers in Columbus, Ohio, briefly address a bill that would provide the freed women with years of relief payments, college tuition and medical assistance.
June 12, 2013: Ariel Castro enters a not-guilty plea on all of the 329 charges against him. Defence attorney Craig Weintraub hints to the court that a trial can be avoided with a plea if Castro escapes the death penalty.
May 16, 2013: Ariel Castro's laywers say he will plead not guilty to the charges brought against him. He was indicted on 329 counts, including 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious assault and one count of possession of criminal tools. The 576-page indictment includes two counts of aggravated murder for allegedly punching and starving one of the women until she miscarried.
May 13, 2013: Onil and Pedro Castro, the two brothers of the man accused of holding three women captive for about a decade, say they have no sympathy for him. Onil, 50, said he wanted Ariel to "suffer in that jail ... I don't care if they even feed him. The monster's a goner." The brothers were initially taken into custody but released after investigators said there was no evidence against them.
May 12, 2013: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight remain in seclusion but release their first public statements, which are read by attorney Jim Wooley. The women plead for privacy so they can heal and reconnect with their families. Wooley says none of the women will do any media interviews until the criminal case against Castro is over.
Knight, who was the first to disappear and the last of the three released from the hospital, said, "Thank you to everyone for your support and good wishes. I am healthy, happy and safe and will reach out to family, friends and supporters in good time."
Berry added: "Thank you so much for everything you’re doing and continue to do. I am so happy to be home with my family."
DeJesus, the youngest of the three, said: "I am so happy to be home, and I want to thank everybody for all your prayers. I just want time now to be with my family."
May 11, 2013: Workers start erecting a 10-foot privacy fence around the Ariel Castro houseon Seymour Ave. and board up the windows and doors to protect evidence in the case. Councilman Brian Cummins says officials are worried about the possibility that someone may try to burn the house down in a stroke of vigilante justice.
May 10, 2013: Tests confirm that alleged kidnapper Ariel Castro is the father of a six-year-old girl who was rescued from his house, the state's top prosecutor says. The girl is the daughter of Amanda Berry.
Michelle Knight is released from hospital and returns home.
May 9, 2013: Ariel Castro is arraigned on charges of rape and kidnapping. The charges include four counts of kidnapping — covering the captives and the daughter born to one of them — and three counts of rape, against all three women. He is held on $8-million US bail under a suicide watch in jail.
Castro is represented at his first court appearance by public defender Kathleen Demetz, who says she can’t speak to his guilt or innocence and adds that she advised him not to give any media interviews that might jeopardize his case.
Police say none of the women gave any indication that Castro's two older brothers, who were arrested with him, were involved. Prosecutors brought no charges against the brothers, citing a lack of evidence. They appear in court on unrelated charges and are released.
Prosecutors say they may seek the death penalty against Castro. Police allege he impregnated Michelle Knight at least five times and made her miscarry by starving her and punching her in the belly. The allegations contained in a police report also said another one of the women, Amanda Berry, was forced to give birth in a plastic kiddie pool so it would be easier to clean up.
May 8, 2013: Berry, 27, and DeJesus, who is in her early 20s, are welcomed home by jubilant crowds of loved ones and neighbours with balloons and banners. Family members hustle them inside, past hundreds of reporters and onlookers. Neither woman speaks to the crowds.
The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, is reported in good condition but remains at Metro Health Medical Center.
The actions of the 911 operator who took the frantic phone call from Amanda Berry that ultimately led to her rescue, along with the freeing of two other women, are put under review following complaints from the public, according to a statement from a city official in Cleveland.
Cleveland police say they are facing questions about their handling of the case and launch an internal review.
More details are revealed about the conditions the women endured. Police say the women were apparently bound by ropes and chains at times and were kept in different rooms, and the women could remember being outside just twice during their entire time in captivity. They suffered prolonged sexual and psychological abuse, and had miscarriages, according to a city councilman.
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Ismail Figueroa, father of Castro's wife Grimilda who passed away in April 2012 after a battle with cancer, speaks to the media. He says Castro would regularly lock his daughter inside a second-floor apartment in the house where they lived when they were first together. Castro was accused of twice breaking her nose, knocking out a tooth, dislocating each shoulder and threatening to kill her and her daughters, according to a 2005 domestic-violence filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court.
May 6, 2013: Just before 6 p.m. ET Amanda Berry calls 911 after escaping a Cleveland home within kilometres of where she went missing. Police say Berry, DeJesus and Knight were tied up at the house and held there. They also find a six-year-old girl, who they believe is Berry's daughter.
Police arrest three brothers in their 50s: Ariel, Pedro and Onil Castro.
The three women were physically bound and only allowed outside "very rarely" during their decade of captivity, the city's police chief, Michael McGrath, tells U.S. media. "We have confirmation that they were bound — that there were chains and ropes in the home," he says, adding that the women were only allowed out "once in awhile," but they didn't appear to be malnourished. "Their physical well-being was very good, considering the circumstances."
Charles Ramsey, a neighbour who helped Berry escape the house, is hailed as a hero.
- Neighbour Charles Ramsey describes helping Amanda Berry escape
- Ohio hero Charles Ramsey says he's 'made amends' for criminal past
2012: Ariel Castro, owner of the home where the women were held, reportedly attends a neighbourhood candlelight vigil held for Gina DeJesus.
November 2011: Neighbour Israel Lugo said he heard pounding on some of the doors of the house, and he called police. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door but no one answered. Police walked to the side of the house and then left, he said.
Circa 2010: The precise date is unclear, but neighbour Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard and called police. "But they didn't take it seriously," she said.
March 2006: Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, dies at age 43 after spending the previous three years looking for her daughter, whose disappearance took a toll as her health steadily deteriorated, friends and family told The Associated Press.
2004: Ariel Castro, owner of the home where the women were held, distributed flyers about DeJesus after she disappeared and played music at a fundraiser in her honour, a friend says.
Girls go missing
April 2, 2004: Gina DeJesus goes missing at age 14 while walking home from school.
January 2004: Cleveland police knock on the door of the home where the missing women are eventually found, but nobody answers. Children and Family Services had initiated an investigation after eventual suspect Ariel Castro, a bus driver, left a boy unattended on the bus. Police determined there was no criminal intent.
April 21, 2003: Amanda Berry disappears at age 16 after calling her sister in the evening to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King, only a few blocks from her home. It was the day before her 17th birthday.
Aug. 22, 2002: Michelle Knight goes missing at age 20. She was last seen at her cousin's house. It was thought at first that she had left home on her own.