Officer recalls rescue of Cleveland women: ‘They were the city’s children and we found them’

CLEVELAND – Five years later and tears still run down the faces of two Cleveland police officers when they recall the events from May 6, 2013.

“I will never forget. How could you forget that?" said Cleveland Officer Anthony Espada.

Espada and Officer Barb Johnson were two of the first officers on scene when Amanda Berry made that miraculous 911 call saying she had escaped after being held captive for 10 years.

“When I first heard, my heart started pounding,” Johnson said. “We got calls before, prank calls, but this one seemed real.”

And Espada agreed.

“Well, actually it was 5:52; I will never forget that time,” Espada told FOX 8. “I was like a little kid. We were near the West Side Market when the call came in and I couldn’t wait to get there to find out if it was real.”

And they soon learned the call was real.

“We finally pull up, called our arrival and she walked up to the driver’s side of the car,” Espada recalled. “ She looked down at my partner, Mike, and then Mike looked at me and his face was like a ghost and he said, 'it’s her.'”

And then there was more news. Amanda told the officers that two other women were still held captive inside the house.

Espada and Johnson entered the home to find them.

“It was very dark,” Johnson said. “We kept calling out that we were Cleveland police. I even put the flashlight on my patch so they could see who we were. All of a sudden, I heard the sound of feet.”

The next thing they knew Michelle Knight, who now goes by the name of Lily Rose Lee, jumped into Espada’s arms.

“She had her legs wrapped around my waist, her arms around my neck and said, 'you saved us,'” Espada recalled. He then had to put her down so he could look for the other woman.

Michelle then went to Johnson.

“She was so afraid and I kept telling, 'her honey, you are safe now,'" Johnson said.

A moment later, the third woman, Gina DeJesus, came out in the hall and told Espada her name.

“I told her we have been looking for you for a long time,” Espada said as tears flowed down his face. “It’s like you were looking for your own children. They were the city’s children and we found them. We got to be a part of that.”

Following the days and months after the rescue, Espada began suffering from depression and PTSD.

He learned that the rescue triggered traumatic memories from his childhood that he had suppressed for years. At the urging of his wife, he sought help.

“We are here to celebrate these three women and I am so proud of them,” Espada said. “I don’t want to take away from that but I want them to know that in their own way they helped save me.”

He said watching the courage the women showed, he knew that he needed to have the strength to seek help for himself. He said he also wants to encourage other officers and first responders to seek help if they need it.

“I don’t want others to be in that dark place,” Espada said. “And I want to be like Amanda, Gina, and Michelle. They are my heroes.”

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