Officer Spent Decade Searching for Missing Girls

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By Autumn Ziemba

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Gina DeJesus', Michelle Knight's and Amanda Berry's names and faces are now recognized worldwide.

They were rescued from a home on Seymour Avenue Monday, and Ariel Castro has been arrested in the case.

But before this case drew international attention, it was the day-to-day life for investigators, many whom dedicated spans of their careers to these families.

Commander Gary Gingell was there from day one.

"From start to finish, it was a heart-wrenching, soul-grabbing case," Gingell told Fox 8's Autumn Ziemba.

Gingell has lived and breathed Berry's and DeJesus' disappearances for nearly a third of his career with the Cleveland Police Department. He was the commander of the first district when the girls first went missing.

Commander Gary Gingell

Commander Gary Gingell

Monday, he got the phone call he's been waiting on for 10 years.

"Deputy Chief Tomba called me and told me, 'I am here at Metro ER standing next to Gina, Amanda and Michelle Knight is here also.' And I just about dropped the phone," he said.

His own disbelief quickly faded to relief and tears that still lingered Saturday.

"I got down there and I was able to share a few moments with Nancy (Ruiz) and Felix (DeJesus) and privileged enough to meet Gina and Amanda for the first time," Gingell explained, holding back tears. "I've only seen them on posters, you know, so it was kind of amazing."

It is that same raw emotion that Gingell has shared with the families for a decade.

"In the beginning, we were sort of joined at the hip everyday," he said. "They would see the (squad) car pulling up, and they don't know what kind of news you're coming with.  So the first thing I would say as I would walk in the door is, I don't have any terrible news today."

It was that extraordinary pain of the unknown that Gingell said his own investigators took to heart: thinking of their own children as they searched abandoned garages, fields and neighborhoods as the days turned into years.

He recalled the words of one of his own lieutenants working the case.

"He says,' you know, I've had nightmares that they found Gina in a place where we searched.' He said, 'I wake up and feel terrible about it'."

Gingell himself said he had many sleepless nights -- a roller coaster that, for him, is finally over.

But for three girls -- now women -- held prisoner, it continues.

"They've spent almost half of their lives on Seymour Avenue, and now, all of a sudden, they're free again," Gingell said.

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