Transfixed by the horror of 10 years of captivity

CLEVELAND, Ohio (AFP) - Ten years after watching Amanda Berry walk out of work for the last time, Darrell Ford stood transfixed behind a US police barricade imagining the horrors she must have endured.

"For ten years - what was he doing to her?" Ford asked Tuesday as FBI forensic experts scoured the house in Cleveland, Ohio where Berry and two other women were held captive for a decade until Berry's dramatic escape.

"It's just crazy," he told AFP. Like Ms Berry, Mr Ford was just a teenager when they worked together at a Burger King restaurant in a working class neighbourhood. He was working the night she disappeared: April 21, 2003, the day before her 17th birthday.

"She was supposed to get a ride home," the slight young man said as his three year-old son played with their dog at his side.

"We thought she was dead the whole time." While he's grateful Ms Berry is alive, Mr Ford said he's worried she will have a hard time recovering from her ordeal.

Police have released few details about how Ms Berry and fellow captives Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were treated during what must have been long and terrible years.

They have confirmed that Ms Berry, now 27, has a six-year-old daughter, apparently born while she was in captivity.

Ms DeJesus was just 14 when she vanished on her way home from school on April 2, 2004. Ms Knight, who was 20 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen at a cousin's house on August 23, 2002, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

They were found in the home of Ariel Castro, 52, a school bus driver who has been arrested along with his brothers: Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50.

The house is shockingly ordinary.

American and Puerto Rican flags hang from the porch of the modest two and a half storey white house with a red roof.

At least one window is boarded up, but that is not particularly unusual on a low-income street with several abandoned homes and problems with crime.

What stands out is the twisted metal where the bottom of the front door was yanked by neighbour Charles Ramsey after he heard Ms Berry's cries for help.

Residents at the scene told AFP that they were shocked and had no idea that the man who would sometimes grill food in his yard and share it with neighbours could have had such a grim secret locked away.

"It's like having a snake in the street," said Joe Torres, a stocky and heavily-tattooed 32-year-old cook.

"No one heard anything, anything," he said as he stood by his parents' home, the front lawn strewn with children's toys.

"I don't know where he had those girls. Maybe he kept them quiet?" Meanwhile, ecstatic friends and relatives poured in and out of the family home of Gina DeJesus where two huge signs tied declared "Welcome home Gina!"

Police cordoned off the home to give them privacy, but they could be seen hugging and sitting in the yard behind a wall of balloons that were tied to the fence.

Neighbors and well wishers gathered outside the yellow police tape and some were allowed to slip under briefly to leave stuffed toys under a missing poster tied to the fence with a faded picture of Gina before she was kidnapped.

"It's just a miracle. We're really glad they're all safe," said Jan Zagorski, 62, who drove over from a nearby suburb.

"She deserves this, she deserves to be remembered," her friend Kevin Doyle said, his voice overcome with emotion. "This story has been a part of all of us for ten years."

It was quieter outside Berry's sister house, where the porch was filled with stuffed animals and signs declaring "Welcome home Amanda" and "we never lost hope, Mandy," but it didn't look like anyone was inside.

Amanda's missing poster was still tied to a tree with a yellow ribbon out front.

Lissa Ruiz, 13, brought a little brown bear to add to the pile outside. She went to school with Berry's niece, who had talked about how hard the disappearance was on the whole family.

The story made her worry about her own safety - even in this middle class neighborhood - and understand why her mother tried to keep her close.

Ruiz said she was overwhelmed when she heard Berry had been found alive after all this time.

"I started crying and was really happy for them because nothing better could happen, because most of these stories don't have a happy ending," she told AFP.