After the endless winter, the land where Ariel Castro's house once stood doesn't look like much, just a vast lawn with scraggly bushes and little trees in rows near Seymour Avenue's sidewalk. But another season is coming, and even the branch tangled in a last shred of yellow police tape will bear blossoms before long.
Charles Ramsey's former housemate, a boatyard worker who just calls himself Schultz, rests on his porch next door, searching for words harsh enough to describe Castro's crimes. There aren't any. But he can talk about the emptiness next door. Of all the ideas for what should go there — a park? new townhomes? — Schultz says Seymour residents want the quietest one.
"Let it be as you see it, a memory, a garden," he says. "Keep adding to it."
Amanda Berry's escape, and Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight's rescue, meant something different to Clevelanders than to the rest of the world. To everyone, including us, Castro's house meant horror, a blistering look at evil. To Clevelanders, the rescue also meant something more: DeJesus and Berry — the city's best-known missing persons of the 2000s — found alive.
"For families who have missing children, for families who are waiting on cases to be solved," says local activist Yvonne Pointer, "it speaks volumes to the fact that no matter how long it takes, there's always hope." After the rescue, police and FBI renewed efforts to solve cases of others who went missing nearby. Thanks to their work, Elias Acevedo Sr. confessed to 1994 and 1995 murders of Pamela Pemberton and Christina Adkins.
"The community has been encouraged not to give up," Pointer says. That resonates beyond the missing persons and beyond cold cases.
I've heard Clevelanders say Castro's crimes could've happened anywhere. Yet it's easier to hide crimes in a neighborhood filled with vacant and decaying homes. Castro lived with the windows boarded and most lights off. To his neighbors, that didn't seem too unusual.
Everyone wants to live far from danger, and poverty is unlikely to be eradicated any sooner than crime is. But Pointer's message — do not give up — could apply to our city as well.
Notheast Ohio's most daunting task is to remake the oldest, emptiest parts of town. Anyone who feels loyalty to Cleveland can help, through the power of the purse, or the vote, or support of a cause. A quiet garden is the right thing for Seymour Avenue, but many other neighborhoods need a planting season this spring.
May 6, 2013 ↣ At 6 p.m., Amanda Berry escapes from 2207 Seymour Ave. with the help and encouragement of Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero. Cleveland police rescue Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from the home.
May 7 ↣ An Auto-tuned remix of Ramsey's interview with NewsChannel5 makes him an overnight YouTube sensation. The video now has more than 20 million views.
May 9 ↣ Castro is booked in Cleveland Municipal Court and held on an $8 million bond.
May 16 ↣ The Cleveland Courage Fund, created to benefit Berry, DeJesus and Knight, reaches nearly $480,000 raised.
June 12 ↣ Castro pleads not guilty.
July 9 ↣ Berry, DeJesus and Knight release a video thanking their supporters.
July 26 ↣ Castro pleads guilty to 937 crimes.
July 27 ↣ Berry appears onstage at RoverFest with Nelly in Voinovich Park.
Aug. 1 ↣ Castro is sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years. Knight addresses Castro in court.
Aug. 7 ↣ The Seymour Avenue home is torn down.
Sept. 3 ↣ Ariel Castro is found dead in his cell from suicide.
Oct. 21 ↣ Plans are revealed for Berry and DeJesus to work with Mary Jordan of The Washington Post on a book about their hardships, expected out in 2015.
Nov. 4-6 ↣ Knight's interview with Dr. Phil airs.
Feb. 24, 2014 ↣ Gov. John Kasich honors Berry, Knight and DeJesus at his State of the State address with 2014 Ohio Courage medals.
Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed
Weinstein Books, $24.99, May 6
↣ Knight, the longest-held captive in Castro's house and the woman almost no one was looking for, has spoken of dedicating her life to activism for the missing. Her memoir promises to go beyond the details of Castro's cruelties to reveal the prayers and thoughts that sustained her for 11 years and the new life she has created since her rescue.
Dead Giveaway: The Rescue, Hamburgers, White Folks, and Instant Celebrity... What You Saw on TV Doesn't EVEN Begin to Tell the Story
Gray and Co., $14.95, May 1
↣ What is it like to be the guy who helps rescue a captive, cracks wise about it on TV and ends up Internet-famous? Charles Ramsey tells his life story and explains how it was transformed by Amanda Berry's cry for help. You've heard much of this before, yet Ramsey's uncensored candor drives his memoir.