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Continued: Neighbors: Man in custody comforted missing girl's mom, helped search for missing Ohio women

  • Article by: THOMAS J. SHEERAN and JOHN COYNE , Associated Press
  • Last update: May 8, 2013 - 6:24 AM

Four years ago, in another poverty-stricken part of town, police were heavily criticized following the discovery of 11 women's bodies in the home and backyard of Anthony Sowell, who was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

The families of Sowell's victims accused police of failing to properly investigate the disappearances because most of the women were addicted to drugs and poor. For months, the stench of death hung over the house, but it was blamed on a sausage factory next door.

Following public outrage over the killings, a panel formed by the mayor recommended an overhaul of the city's handling of missing-person and sex crime investigations.

On Tuesday, a sign hung on a fence decorated with dozens of balloons outside the home of DeJesus' parents read "Welcome Home Gina." Her aunt Sandra Ruiz said her niece had an emotional reunion with family members.

"Those girls, those women are so strong," Ruiz said. "What we've done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive."

Many of the women's loved ones and friends had held out hope of seeing them again,

For years, Berry's mother kept her room exactly as it was, said Tina Miller, a cousin. When magazines addressed to Berry arrived, they were piled in the room alongside presents for birthdays and Christmases she missed. Berry's mother died in 2006.

Just over a month ago, Miller attended a vigil marking the 10th anniversary of Berry's disappearance.

Over the past decade or so, investigators twice dug up backyards looking for Berry and continued to receive tips about her and DeJesus every few months, even in recent years. The disappearance of the two girls was profiled on TV's "America's Most Wanted" in 2005. Few leads ever came in about Knight.

Knight vanished at age 20 in 2002. Berry disappeared at 16 in 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. About a year later, DeJesus vanished.

Jessica Aponce, 24, said she walked home with DeJesus the day the teenager disappeared.

"She called her mom and told her mom she was on her way home and that's the last time I seen her," Aponce said. "I just can't wait to see her. I'm just so happy she's alive. It's been so many years that everybody thinking she was dead."

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's CEO, John Ryan, said Berry, DeJesus and Knight likely would be honored by his group.

"I think they're going to be at the top of the list," he said.

___

Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Jesse Washington, Mike Householder, Meghan Barr in Cleveland, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati, John Seewer in Toledo, Mitch Stacy and Kantele Franko in Columbus and Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

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