Closings and delays

FBI praises courage and strength of women five years after rescue

CLEVELAND-- Just before 6 p.m. on that Monday five years ago, Cleveland police officers were dispatched to Seymour Avenue, a block from Interstate 90 and West 25th Street, after a frantic 911 caller identified herself by name.  It's a name out of Cleveland's past.

"I'm Amanda Berry. I've been on the news for the last 10 years."

Amanda was outside the home, holding her 6-year-old daughter. Police raced inside to rescue Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, now named Lily Rose Lee. They were taken to the hospital to be checked out.

At the end of that extraordinary week, FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson told us what she remembers of the women from that first night at MetroHealth Medical Center.

"They were just all smiles. They were so happy. They were hugging their families and they couldn't stop grinning," Anderson said.

It was Amanda's daring and brave effort to break out of the home on Seymour Avenue that led to the rescue of all three women and Amanda's daughter.

Michelle was an adult when she was taken so her case never did receive a lot of attention. But the community kept Amanda and Gina's names front and center, in part with rallies, for a decade.

"I don't think anybody in law enforcement is patting themselves on the back. I mean, this was these girls, that was Amanda kicking through that door and that man outside who helped. This was not law enforcement that rescued them. We wish we'd been able to, we tried," Anderson said.

"We followed every lead. We followed every investigation tip that  came in. All the leads the team came up with. We did everything logical that you would. We walked through people's houses. We knocked on doors," Anderson said. "Obviously, to have them blocks away is truly remarkable and to have them survive is truly incredible."

The week of the rescues, stories emerged about the search for the women, including one from a man who claimed the kidnapper's name had been provided to the FBI.

"There were all kinds of things that came out that week that just weren't true. People jumping up in front of camera from the neighborhood. And we followed up on all that. And no, there was never a mention of Ariel Castro," Anderson said.

An important takeaway five years later is for all of us to be aware of what could be called "acquaintance danger."

"We often teach our kids 'stranger danger.' He was not a stranger. They didn't know him well, but he was the father of daughters that he had, they knew the daughters, they were friends with them," she said. "The statistics will show you, stranger abductions are very rare. That it's often somebody who knows the family or is an acquaintance or a relative."

Anderson said, looking back, she admires the people of Cleveland, how they rallied around the women while they were missing, celebrated their returns and now quietly embrace them as they lead their lives. Most of all, she admires Amanda, Gina and Lily, their courage in captivity and their strength in freedom.

"They can go and do things in the community, and it's not a big deal. They're normal now and that's terrific," Anderson said.

Continuing coverage of this story here