CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ten years after watching Amanda Berry walk out of work for the last time, Darrell Ford stood transfixed behind a US police barricade imagining the horrors she must have endured.
“For ten years — what was he doing to her?” Ford asked Tuesday as FBI forensic experts scoured the house in Cleveland, Ohio where Berry and two other women were held captive for a decade until Berry’s dramatic escape.
“It’s just crazy,” he told AFP.
Like Berry, Ford was just a teenager when they worked together at a Burger King restaurant in a working class neighborhood. He was working the night she disappeared: April 21, 2003, the day before her 17th birthday.
“She was supposed to get a ride home,” the slight young man said as his three year-old son played with their dog at his side.
“We thought she was dead the whole time.”
While he’s grateful Berry is alive, Ford said he’s worried that she will have a hard time recovering from her ordeal.
FBI agents could be seen moving in and out of the house, removing evidence and recording the scene.
Police have released few details about what Berry and fellow captives Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight endured.
They have confirmed that Berry, now 27, has a six-year-old daughter, apparently born while she was in captivity.
DeJesus was 14 when she vanished on her way home from school on April 2, 2004. Knight, who was 20 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen at a cousin’s house on August 23, 2002, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
They were found in the home of Ariel Castro, 52, a school bus driver who has been arrested along with his brothers: Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50.
The house is shockingly ordinary.
American and Puerto Rican flags hang from the porch, which has rails that are stripped as though they’re about to be repainted.
At least one window is boarded up, but that is not particularly unusual on a low-income street with several abandoned homes and problems with crime.
Residents at the scene told AFP that they were shocked and had no idea that the man who would sometimes grill food in his yard and share it with neighbors could have had such a grim secret locked away.
Bill McNutt, 71, said he is used to crime on the street. When he heard the sirens on Monday he thought it was another drug bust. He was stunned when a neighbor told him that three women had been held captive just up the road.
“They must have kept them chained up, because ten years, gosh,” the retired computer programmer said as he leaned on the fence of a rooming house he has run since 1973.
McNutt said he didn’t know Castro, but had been told by other neighbors that he always parked his truck in the back of the house and never went in the front door that was Amanda Berry’s eventual escape route.
Meanwhile, ecstatic friends and relatives poured in and out of the family home of Gina DeJesus where two huge signs tied declared “Welcome home Gina!”
Police cordoned off the home to give them privacy, but they could be seen hugging and sitting in the yard behind a wall of balloons that were tied to the fence.
Neighbors and well wishers gathered outside the yellow police tape and some were allowed to slip under briefly to leave stuffed toys under a missing poster tied to the fence with a faded picture of Gina before she was kidnapped.
“It’s just a miracle, we’re really glad they’re all safe,” said Jan Zagorski, 62, who drove over from a nearby suburb.
“She deserves this, she deserves to be remembered,” her friend Kevin Doyle said, his voice overcome with emotion. “This story has been a part of all of us for ten years.”