Cleveland police lauded Amanda Berry today as the "real hero" in her own rescue and that of her fellow captives Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, each of whom apparently spent close to a decade locked up while friends and family feared they were dead.
"It does not surprise me that she was the first one who broke out," her former teacher Joe Kapostasy said on PoliticsNation. He described her as a "tough cookie" who really held her own in science class even when boys would hit on her.
The other big hero of the day? Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who heard Berry's cries and helped kick in a locked door, allowing her to escape. Although he'd heard her name on the news, it didn't immediately register when she told him who she was.
He told reporters "it was astonishing" to find out there were even more girls in his neighbor's house, saying he had "not a clue" that Ariel Castro was holding women against their will.
Berry, now 27, disappeared in April 2003, a day shy of her 17th birthday, after calling her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. Less than a year earlier, Michelle Knight, then 20, disappeared as well. Gina DeJesus went missing at age 14, while walking home from middle school in 2004.
Police are searching the home for clues about the disappearances of a fourth captive, Ashley Summers, who went missing in the same neighborhood at the age of 14.
Police have arrested home owner Ariel Castro, 52, along with his brothers Pedro, 54, and O'Neil, 50, in connection with the kidnapping, though they have yet to be formally charged.
Art McKoy, a Cleveland radio host and activist who lead vigils for two of the girls when they were missing, says it took the dedication and persistence of the parents to get the police involved, who he complains were "a day and a dollar too short" in their response. He credits activists and parents like the DeJesus family for never letting police forget the case.
"Though sometimes we were pessimistic, we stayed strong," he said, noting that that Gina DeJesus's parents never lost faith that their daughter was alive.
"Nancy DeJesus was right. Gina lives."
Ed Smart knows what it's like to have a child go missing. His daughter, Elizabeth Smart, was just 14 when she was abducted from her home in 2002, the same age as Gina DeJesus when she was kidnapped.
"When I heard about it yesterday I just went 'there are three miracles there' and what joy and happiness for them to be reunited with their families," he told Rev. Sharpton on PoliticsNation. "I thought back on how it was when Elizabeth came home to us and how we rejoiced and thanked God for this incredible miracle."
He said it's important for those who are following this story not to judge the girls for not escaping sooner. "You hear those comments of why didn't they get away... people out there need to understand that undoubtedly their lives were threatened or their families lives were threatened," he said, calling the "predators" who capture these women "master manipulators."
We all need to keep our eyes open because I truly believe that there are others out there in similar situations.