Shortly before a car came to pick up Barbara Knight for the airport, she sat with her 10-year-old daughter and tried to recall the face of her oldest child, Michelle, who had been missing for more than a decade.
Knight says she no longer has any photographs of Michelle at her Golden Gate Estates home. She gave her last one to Cleveland police after Michelle Knight disappeared Aug. 23, 2002.
“I haven’t seen her in so long that I can’t even picture her,” Knight said Tuesday afternoon. “The detective told me she lost a lot of weight.”
Knight, now 32, and two other women who were missing and presumed dead — Amanda Berry, 27, and Gina DeJesus, about 23 — were found alive Monday night at a house south of downtown Cleveland, police officials said. A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry’s daughter also was found in the home, police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said, although he would not say who the father was.
Three brothers — Ariel Castro, 52; Pedro Castro, 54; and Onil Castro, 50 — were arrested in connected with the kidnappings, although details about the arrests were sparse Tuesday. The women were rescued after Berry kicked out the bottom portion of a locked screen door and used a neighbor’s telephone to call 911.
Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, owned the home, situated in a poor neighborhood dotted with boarded-up houses. No charges were filed, and attempts to contact Castro in jail were unsuccessful.
Barbara Knight said she reported her daughter missing in 2002 after she went to pick her up for a court date for a custody battle Michelle was going through. Michelle’s friends told her she had left for the dollar store and not returned.
Knight said she was unable to call Michelle because her cellphone had been stolen. She grew increasingly concerned when her daughter did not arrive back at the friend’s home where she had been staying.
Knight recalls police telling her they couldn’t do much since Michelle was an adult. Investigators said they would wait for someone to come forward with information or for Michelle to possibly be arrested, according to Knight.
“(The detective) said, ‘Maybe she doesn’t want you in her life anymore.’ But I kept looking for her,” Knight said. “I walked the streets to see if anybody had seen her, I passed out fliers.”
Two neighbors also said they hit dead ends with investigators.
Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter once saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard several years ago and called police. “But they didn’t take it seriously,” she said.
Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of the house in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. “They walked to side of the house and then left,” he said.
“Everyone in the neighborhood did what they had to do,” said Lupe Collins, who is close to relatives of the women. “The police didn’t do their job.”
After Barbara Knight’s mother called and told her to turn on the news Monday night, she watched with bewilderment and wondered if the Michelle Knight they were talking about was actually her daughter. Later, she saw the cameras pan to the house where her daughter had been held captive.
“That house they showed on TV, I delivered a flier to,” Knight said. “When I saw that house, I said, ‘That looks familiar.’”
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. 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 at 14 on her way home from school.
The disappearance of the two girls was profiled on TV’s “America’s Most Wanted” in 2005.
Few leads ever came in about Knight, and her disappearance garnered far less media attention.
Barbara Knight scrambled to make travel arrangements Tuesday for herself and her 10-year-old daughter, Katie, who “was a baby in my stomach” at the time Michelle Knight went missing. Katie said she grew up hearing about her older sister, although she is nervous to meet her for the first time.
“I never knew who Michelle was, but now I do,” said Katie, the youngest of Barbara Knight’s four children. Michelle also has two younger twin brothers who still live in Ohio.
Knight said her daughter was a “spunky” child who played softball and basketball. Like the younger sister she never met, Michelle’s favorite subject in school was art.
Michelle became pregnant in high school, the result of what her mother said was a sexual assault. She decided to keep the child, a baby boy she named Joey, Barbara Knight said.
Joey was about 3 when he was taken into state custody under circumstances Knight is not comfortable discussing. Michelle was trying to regain custody at the time she went missing, her mother said.
She does not know what happened to the boy since then, although she remembers an old ultrasound photo of Joey and his tiny knees and wonders if he still has it.
Knight said she had not yet been made aware of what happened to her daughter in captivity, although she was told Michelle and the other two women were in good health.
Police would not say how the women were taken captive or how they were hidden in the same neighborhood where they vanished. Investigators also would not say whether they were kept in restraints inside the house or sexually assaulted.
“I can imagine the kind of things they could have done to her,” Barbara Knight said.
Knight said she never believed her daughter was a runaway, especially after hearing from Michelle’s friends that they hadn’t heard from her either. Still, she eventually resigned herself to the probability that her daughter was no longer alive.
“They always say that kids never get reunited,” Knight said of longtime missing people.
If permitted, Knight, who moved to Naples a year ago because of health issues, plans to take Michelle back with her to live in the Naples area.
“I wouldn’t leave her up there. Not after all the stuff I went through,” Knight said. “I’d be afraid something would happen again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.