CLEVELAND, Ohio — It started out as just another shift for three Cleveland police officers.
Officers Michael Tracy and Anthony Espada were patrolling near the West Side Market after a series of car break-ins had been reported in the area.
Officer Barbara Johnson was doing some work in the offices of the second district police headquarters.
At 5:52 p.m. on May 6, 2013, their day – and their lives – would change when a dispatcher issued a startling radio call.
“I got a call from a female,” the dispatcher broadcast on the police band. “Says her name is Amanda Berry, and that she had been kidnapped ten years ago.”
Tracy and Espada instantly raced about a mile down the street, crossing I-90, then making the first turn south of the freeway onto Seymour Avenue.
As soon as they turned, they saw a young woman holding a young child. It was Amanda Berry and her six-year-old daughter who was born in captivity.
“Even before we could stop the car, she’s right at the window,” said Tracy, “and we look at her, and we look at each other – and that’s her.”
“I never saw that look on Mike before,” added Espada, and he’s like ‘it’s her.'”
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the amazing rescue that took place that night — a rescue that ended roughly a decade in brutal captivity for Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.
Their captor, rapist and killer Ariel Castro, was sentenced to life in prison, plus a thousand years in prison. He hung himself in jail late last summer.
The heroics that day began with Amanda’s brave moments earlier when she kicked at the bottom panel of Castro’s front door in a desperate attempt to escape.
Two men reportedly helped Amanda get out: Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero. She quickly called 911, and the dispatcher sent Tracy and Espada to the scene.
Amanda tells them that two more women, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus, were still inside Castro’s home.
Terry goes in first, clears the main floor and heads for the basement.
Espada heads upstairs, with Johnson now on scene and backing him up, walking up the stairs with their guns drawn.
The officers are yelling “Cleveland police,” but no one is responding.
“It was very quiet,” Johnson says, “until you hear the pitter-patter of steps. Then you’re like, ‘what’s going on?'”
Michelle and Gina do not come out of the bedrooms, perhaps fearing Castro would be there as well.
After a moment, Michelle peers out from behind a bedroom door. Johnson rotates the flashlight on her gun towards the police patch on her shoulder to identify the officers to Michelle.
“That’s when she came running out,” Johnson says.
“She kind of caught me off guard,” said Espada. “She jumped on me, had her arms around me, her feet wrapped around my waist, couldn’t holster my gun, and she’s just yelling in my face ‘you saved us, you saved us.'”
Espada says another person walked out of the bedroom, and he instantly knew who it was.
“I just asked her her name, and she said ‘Georgina DeJesus.'”
Espada says he needed to broadcast on his police radio that the women were safe, but he needed a minute first “because if I would have immediately started talking into the mike, I would have broken down.”
After a moment, Espada broadcasts, “Adam-23, radio, we found them, we found them.”
One year later, the officers say they are grateful for having the chance to help the women that day. When they went in the house, they were not sure that Ariel Castro wasn’t inside as well.
Amanda Berry had the courage to break out, and the officers had the courage to go rushing in.
“You got to take everything seriously,” says Tracy, “and you never give up hope.”