CLEVELAND — The sound of church bells blanketed a Cleveland neighborhood looking forward to brighter days.
They rang out from Immanuel Lutheran Church on Scranton Road, just down the street from Seymour Avenue.
That’s where a house used to hold three young women captive for a decade was destroyed Wednesday.
The bells represent the newfound freedom of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. They escaped from the home in May.
“We’re ringing the bells because it’s a day of rejoicing. The house came down and bells are a sign of rejoicing,” said Dennis Schmidt, soon-to-be pastor of the church.
Schmidt added he’s sure the women would have heard those same church bells every Sunday and on holidays.
Cheers also erupted as the demolition of convicted rapist and kidnapper Ariel Castro’s home began shortly after 7 a.m.
By tearing down Castro’s home, it’s one less reminder of the pain and abuse that went on for so long.
Speaking to the media from that neighborhood, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty called Castro “one evil guy.”
“Cleveland has stepped forward,” McGinty said of the companies that donated services for the demolition efforts. He also praised the individuals who donated to the Cleveland Courage Fund, which was established to help the survivors.
Removing the home will also clear a spot for a positive asset in the community, such as a garden.
Grass and flowers will be planted on the spot immediately after the debris is removed.
Peggy Arida, DeJesus’ aunt, was the first to operate the machine used to knock down the house.
“They asked if any of the family wanted to do it, and I said I would do it, and it felt good,” she told Fox 8 News.
The DeJesus family was at the scene to watch and Knight walked through the neighborhood earlier in the morning to pass out yellow balloons.
Along Seymour, people in the community were kept at a distance from the demolition site, but that didn’t stop them from walking over from the surrounding streets to watch, where they joined hands and prayed.
“I’m so glad it’s coming down. I used to live on this street 30 years ago. The street doesn’t need this. It’s a sad situation,” said Katie Brown, of Cleveland.
“I came out to see the monster house being destroyed. It’s good for the neighborhood. They don’t have to see the monster house and remembered what happened to those girls,” said Eric Demerritte, of Cleveland.
The FBI was there to oversee the demolition. McGinty said Castro had mentioned there was more money in the house but none was found.
“Not a dime rolled out,” McGinty said.
Two houses to the west of Castro’s home will be torn down within 10 days.
“This needs to be done for the survivors and their families,” Fitzgerald said. “I saw Gina’s mom’s face when it started coming down and it was priceless.”
How the land will be used will be determined by the survivors and neighbors in time.
Castro admitted to raping and torturing the women since he abducted them separately from a west side neighborhood in 2002, 2003 and 2004 respectively.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years.
The house demolition and debris removal was expected to take only one day. Seymour Avenue will be blocked off throughout the work.
When it reopens, FitzGerald said there are good things ahead.
“This is not going to be that the last thing that you ever hear out of this neighborhood,” FitzGerald promised. “It’s the darkest day, but there are a lot brighter days that are coming.”
(Fox 8’s Peggy Sinkovich, Kevin Freeman and Melissa Reid contributed to this report.)