The Cleveland home where three women were held captive and brutally beaten and sexually abused for the past decade met its fate on Wednesday — a wrecking crew.
It came only 93 days after the women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — were able to escape their captor, Ariel Castro, 53, who has been sent to prison for the rest of his life.
Before the demolition, Knight, holding a bunch of yellow balloons, visited the home one last time. She released the balloons, hugged and spoke with neighbors and the media briefly. She said she will become a motivational speaker.
"I feel very liberated that people think of me as a hero and a role model," Knight said, adding that it was important to her to be there today "because nobody was there for me when I was missing."
She also said she's going to be a victim's advocate. "I want people out there to know, including the mothers, that they can have strength," she said. "They can have hope, and their child will come back."
Demolition of the Seymour Avenue home on Cleveland’s west side began at about 7:20 a.m. local time when a construction crane swung its large claw arm into the side of the boarded-up home.
A crowd, which included Nancy Ruiz, mother of DeJesus, cheered as the first pieces of debris fell to the ground. As the demolition continued, onlookers watched as the walls crumbled and revealed empty rooms. Clouds of dust wafted from the rubble.
Security was tight during the demolition. Numerous police officers and members of the local chapter of Guardian Angels restricted access to the area.
During a pause in the demolition, Ruiz posed for a photo in front of the home.
Castro was sentenced last week to life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years, after pleading guilty to 937 charges, including murder, rape and kidnapping. As part of the plea deal, Castro signed over the deed to his house and forfeited cash left in the home.
Castro lured the women to the house where he restrained them with chains, locked them in rooms and beat and raped them. He fathered a child with Berry and impregnated Knight but forced her to miscarry by starving and beating her, authorities said.
“This was one evil guy,” Cuyahoga Prosecutor Tim McGinty said of Castro as demolition crews began working.
Berry and her 6-year-old daughter were able to escape the home on May 6 and call police, who responded and freed the two other women.
McGinty said Castro’s money, approximately $22,000, was to be used to pay for the demolition. However, local excavation and wrecking crews volunteered to tear down the home, as well as two adjacent homes. The cash instead will be used for redevelopment in the neighborhood.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who watched as the demolition crews worked, said that every major metropolitan area in the country has its horrific stories. The issue, however, is how the community responds and moves on.
“What you see behind me is the way this community has chosen to respond,” FitzGerald said. “They responded in the right way.”
A committee has been organized to plan a redevelopment effort for the neighborhood.
“This is closing of one chapter,” FitzGerald said. “This is not going to be the last thing you hear out of this neighborhood.”
The last wall of Castro’s former home fell at 8:14 a.m., and a pile of rubble remained. As crews began scooping up the rubble, bells from a nearby church rang out.