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A Cleveland Miracle

It happened in the very neighborhood that used to be own.

In 2002, Michelle Knight, 20, disappeared after visiting her cousin. One year later, Amanda Berry, 16, never returned home after her shift at a local Burger King. In 2004, 14-year-old Gina DeJesus vanished on her way from school. The abductions happened all in the same area, two on the same block. By now everyone has heard the joyous news that Michelle, Amanda, and Gina have been found—unbelievably, only several miles away from where they originally were taken.

 photo amandaandgina.jpg
     Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus

For a good part of my childhood, I lived in that neighborhood and attended the same elementary school as Gina, though of course many years earlier. At that time it was a cozy, mostly white, working-class neighborhood with a small Hispanic population. Some areas were shabby and somewhat questionable; others were meticulously cared for, bordering on gracious.

Though it seems impossible by today’s standards, I walked to school from kindergarten on. Starting in first grade, this meant I also had to come for lunch, which entailed crossing two four-lane streets (W. 105th and West Boulevard) by myself. Being a lollygagger and a daydreamer, I often arrived home for lunch precisely in time for me to turn right around and head back to school.

It was a neighborhood where people watched out for each other’s children—not only to keep them safe, but to rat them out to their parents if they were, oh, say, running on lawns or teasing dogs or throwing rocks at windows of abandoned buildings, Trust me, you got away with nothing in those days. While we swam at Sunrise in the summer, skated at the old Rollercade on Denison Avenue, and hung out at the playground at Wilbur Wright Junior High--all without any parental supervision--the ghost of Beverly Potts hovered over all of us.

No way could you grow up on the west side of Cleveland and not know about Beverly, who disappeared on her way home from Halloran Park back in 1951.

 photo beverly.jpg

The warnings given to us by our parents, “Don’t talk to strangers” and “Don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know” were often supplemented with, “You don’t want to end up like Beverly Potts.” Hers was a cautionary tale we took very seriously because, back in those days, kids (or so it seemed) simply didn’t vanish into thin air. If they were kidnapped and murdered, their bodies were found. Beverly’s disappearance remains a mystery to this day.

While my old neighborhood has grown tougher and shabbier over the years, the makeup of this area has little to do with what happened to Gina, Michelle, and Amanda. As in the Jaycee Dugard case, these girls, now young women—one with a child—were kidnapped and held captive for years by a man who can only be best described as a monster. How eerie is it that this scumbag Ariel Castro (whose two brothers have also been arrested) passed as a "regular" guy, school bus driver of all things, who barbequed with his neighbors, played the bass guitar in local haunts, and even friended a relative of Gina on Facebook?

How bizarre is it that his very own son wrote a newspaper article about Gina's disappearance without suspecting his father was involved?

How is it possible that these girls were imprisoned for a decade and more, and nobody knew? Nobody suspected?

“Watch who your neighbor is, because you never know,” said Sandra Ruiz, Gina’s aunt, on Fox 8 News this morning.

It’s so terrifying that she’s right: You never know.

“If you don’t believe in miracles,” she added, “I suggest you think again.”

Gina and Amanda’s families never gave up hope. They regularly held vigils. They kept their loved ones’ names in the local and often national news. They appeared on TV shows like America’s Most Wanted and Oprah. To this day you can’t walk down Lorain Avenue without seeing the faces of these girls taped to windows and telephone poles. Thankfully Amanda had the courage to break free at last, and God bless Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who raced to her aid.

“Sisterhood…” Sandra Ruiz’s single word broke my heart. “What we did in ten years is nothing compared to what those women did to survive.”

Please keep them all in your prayers.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 7th, 2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
This is all I can think about today. It is such a relief that after so long these girls were still alive and have finally found freedom, but my mind is plagued by what I know is to come now: the truth and details of their imprisonment. My heart will break a thousand times more than it already has for these girls.

I read Jaycee Dugard's book last year and could barely finish it. I balled my eyes out reliving her torture. I just don't know how people recover from something so horrific, from losing extended portions of their youth this way. Maybe it says I'm weak, but I can't see myself getting past something like this. I'm glad people like Jaycee do and I hope the same is true for these brave girls, but it hurts my heart no less worrying for them and what they've been through.

I can't imagine how much more this story would consume my thoughts if it'd happened near by my own childhood home. The story of Beverley Potts is new to me, but even with it's age is terribly scary considering she was never found. People need closure, even if it's not the answer they want to hear.

Today is bittersweet.
May. 7th, 2013 09:19 pm (UTC)
I read Jaycee's book, too. What struck me (aside from her amazing strength and spirit) was how YOUNG her writing sounded, almost as if she were still 11 years old.
May. 7th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
Agreed, which really made her already sad story even sadder - that her intelligence (among other things) was stunted because of these evil people.
Janice Seagraves
May. 7th, 2013 09:02 pm (UTC)
A Cleveland Miracle
I'm so glad these girls were found, but it saddens me what they were put through. It's so similar to Jaycee's story, except she was younger.
May. 7th, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC)
Re: A Cleveland Miracle
Yes, it's EERILY similar!
May. 8th, 2013 06:54 am (UTC)
This is so incredibly tragic. Thank goodness all three were finally found!
May. 8th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
And now 2 of them are back home with their families!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


Jeannine Garsee

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