One Year Later, Families Still Waiting on Their Own Miracle

CLEVELAND – The house fortified with boarded-up windows and makeshift alarms where Ariel Castro held three women captive for nearly a decade is gone now.

So are the missing-persons posters that were taped to light poles and restaurant windows throughout a neighborhood haunted by the disappearances of so many girls over the years.

What hasn’t changed since the stunning discovery of those three women is that others are still missing from those same streets.

For those families given a glimmer of hope by the women’s escape, the past year has been filled with new leads, fruitless searches and, for one, a heartbreaking end.

“I can’t say we’re jealous, but we’re disappointed we don’t have that resolution,” said Greg Washington, a close friend of a woman who disappeared in 2007. “We just want resolution. Either have her back or know what happened.”

Optimism soared during the chaotic hours after Amanda Berry broke through a screen door to freedom last May. Upstairs, officers found Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. They had been snatched off the streets separately from 2002 to 2004 and locked inside Castro’s house, investigators later said.

Two miles away, Albert Kleckner stared at his television in disbelief. “I was hoping my daughter would come out next,” he said.

A few families showed up at the hospital where the three women were being evaluated. Too overwhelmed to drive, a neighbor took Tonia Adkins to see if her big sister, Christina, who disappeared in 1995, had been found.

“There was such high hope, and all of a sudden, it was taken away again,” Adkins said.

Finding the three kidnapped women generated new tips about 18-year-old Christina Adkins and a 14-year-old girl who disappeared years ago in the same area. Investigators also looked into whether Castro was tied to other disappearances but found nothing.

Families of the missing held rallies during the summer and joined police officers to pass out fliers, hoping for their own miracle. “It has brought a sense of unity and urgency,” said Angel Arroyo, a pastor who has worked with families in Cleveland.

Arroyo and Gina DeJesus’ father went to door-to-door last summer after a young woman disappeared in a neighboring city. Felix DeJesus also joined relatives of another missing woman at rally in June to make sure she wasn’t forgotten either.

“People deep down didn’t believe, but he didn’t give up hope,” said Manuel Walker, whose mother, Gloria Walker, was last seen on the city’s east side seven years ago. “For him to find his daughter, it gives you hope, more than you already had.”

The list of missing people in Cleveland, a city of just under 400,000, makes up about one out of every 10 unresolved cases in the entire state. Cleveland police records show nearly 2,800 missing persons cases last year alone.

Most are found within a few days or weeks, but 23 people have been gone for more than a year, some since the early 1990s.

Often times, those who go missing are runaways or have lost touch with their families.

Five years ago, Cleveland police were heavily criticized following the discovery of 11 women’s bodies in the home and backyard of a man later convicted and sentenced to death.