By John Gress
The setting sun shimmered off of wind swept waves on Lake Erie as my plane took off for Chicago and I headed back to normal life, knowing that the people who I covered over the past three days will need a lot more than a 400 mile flight to return to their normal life. I flew to Cleveland on Monday after three women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, and a child escaped from the home of Ariel Castro after allegedly being held there for about a decade.
This was driven home to me on my last emotional stop in this northeast Ohio city, visiting Michelle Knight’s grandmother, Deborah Knight, at the end of a brick street that had more in common with a roller coaster than a freeway. While capturing her interactions with neighbor Sandra Guisao, I could tell that the news of Melissa’s escape was causing her to experience a range of emotions. One could only imagine the horror these women had to endure after allegedly being held captive and raped for about a decade and the excitement they must have experienced when they made their escape.
On the morning that I met Deborah Knight, I was also in the room with Castro as he was arraigned on the charges. He seemed meek, staring at the floor. I read in a newspaper that some observed him chewing the collar of his jump suit. His mouth was close enough in the photos, but I can’t say I saw it myself as I was too focused on trying to capture him when he looked up just enough so I could see his eyes. In these situations, the defendants never carry themselves the way you expect, leaving you with more and more questions… questions we will probably never get the answers to.
Both of these moments were in stark contrast to the day before when I photographed Amanda Berry’s and Gina DeJesus’ homecoming. At the Berry house, we were told that Amanda would make a statement when she arrived. Instead a chaotic scene erupted when she arrived in a van under what appeared to be a blanket. Her sister, Beth Serrano, then made the statement instead. Serrano caught me, and I am sure a lot of the other media, off guard when she quickly moved up within 10 feet of the phalanx of media and began to give a statement while holding back tears. We had expected her to speak from the porch and many of the cameras were left without a shot causing the media to crowd in, pushing and shoving, to capture the petite sibling. Being a tall photographer sometimes has its advantages as I was able to capture the moment… if she had only stayed on the porch.
Before Gina DeJesus made here arrival, the cameras were all set until a van passed with the victim inside and the police decided to allow us closer at the last minute, causing a crush of neighbors and photographers.