1st police officer on scene of Miracle in Cleveland reflects 10 years later
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - All week long 19 News has been doing stories on people who have been reported missing in our community, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the day three Cleveland women who were held captive for nearly a decade were found alive.
For the first time, we’re hearing from the retired Cleveland Patrolman Anthony Espada, who was first to respond to the scene at Seymour Avenue nearly 10 years ago, along with his partner Mike Tracey who couldn’t believe his eyes.
“As soon as she walked up to the window, he just looked at me like he saw a ghost, and I said is it her, and he said it’s her,” Espada said.
Amanda Berry from all those missing posters was standing right in front of them, much thinner, pale, and holding her young daughter. It was that daughter who noticed the door was left open to the home where her mom and others were being held captive. Berry escaped the house where she had been held captive since April 21, 2003, The day before her 17th birthday. She ran across the street and called 911.
“All of a sudden she says there are two other girls in the house and it caught us off guard,” Patrolman Espada said.
The Cleveland officer and others immediately converged on the home with guns drawn, to rescue the two other young women. At the time police were not sure if kidnapper Ariel Castro was inside.
As Officer Espada approached the second floor of the home, captive Michelle Knight peeked out from one of the rooms. She was hesitant at first, but then she jumped right into Espada’s arms, “She jumped on to me, had her arms around my shoulders, my neck, had her legs wrapped around my waist, and she was screaming in my face, you save us, you saved us. My name is Michelle Knight (who now goes by Lily Rose Lee), I’ve been here for 10 or 11 years.”
Then, Gina DeJesus was spotted inside the home. DeJesus was kidnapped when she was just 14 years old.
She timidly identified herself to Officer Espada who told the young woman they had been looking for her for a very long time.
Officer Espada tells 19 News, that’s when he was overwhelmed with emotion, as he tried to use his police radio to inform dispatch and other officers that the missing girls were now all safe, “If I would have broadcasted right away, I would have broken down and started crying.”
To this day the Cleveland officer says the Seymour Avenue survivors have forever touched his heart, and that day and time when they found freedom is forever tattooed on his arm. He says that was the best moment of his career because it changed him too, “What are the chances of finding one missing for so long alive, and we found three alive that day. It was a miracle.”
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