CLEVELAND, Ohio (AFP) - Two of the three young American women who were rescued this week after a decade spent imprisoned and tormented in a kidnapper's house made an emotional return to their families on Wednesday.
The third remained in hospital, as police interrogated three men suspected of abducting the Ohio women, chaining them and holding them for 10 years, during which time one of them give birth to a now six-year-old daughter.
A shiver of anticipation ran through the massed ranks of reporters camped outside the Cleveland family home of 27-year-old Amanda Berry, the mother of the child, when police said she was expected to make a statement.
But in the end, the emotion of the day proved too much and it was Ms Berry's diminutive sister Beth Serrano who emerged through banks of balloons and "welcome home" messages to be engulfed in a forest of microphones.
Her voice breaking, she delivered a brief speech before erupting in tears.
"I want to thank the public and media for their support and courage over the years. At this time our family would request privacy so my sister and niece and I can have time to recover," she said.
"We appreciate all you have done for us throughout the past 10 years.
Please respect our privacy until we are ready to make our statements." The crowd broke into applause and one woman gasped: "Oh, that poor girl."
Ms Berry was the first of the women to escape, having managed to attract the attention of a neighbor who kicked in the door of the modest working class home where they were being held.
Next home was 23-year-old Gina DeJesus, helped into her home sheltered under a yellow hooded top and a relative's arm, as her father pumped his fist, well-wishers chanted "Gina, Gina, Gina!" and camera shutters clicked.
She looked overwhelmed, but managed a brief wave to the crowd.
Gina's aunt, Ms Sandra Ruiz, read a statement.
"Thank you, again, for your prayers and support. There are not enough words to say or express the joy that we feel for the return of our family member Gina," she said, paying tribute to her niece's fellow captives.
Ms Ruiz also issued a plea for a fourth Cleveland woman, still missing.
"Now we need to, as a whole, to rally together, to look next door, and bring our other family member that is missing, Ashley Summers, OK?" she said.
The dramatic end to the decade-long ordeal triggered a wave of emotion in the city, and hundreds of local residents came out in the streets to cheer.
Ms Rosa Garcia, one of DeJesus's second cousins, said she had spoken to the family but not yet seen them.
"She's real quiet," the 50-year-old told AFP outside the Berry house.
"She's really not saying much. We want to give them some space because they've had a hard time."
Her daughter Miriam, a 25-year-old nurse, spoke for many in the crowd when she said how sorry she was that Ms Berry's mother had not survived to see her daughter and unknown granddaughter freed.
"It's a miracle this is the outcome because it doesn't usually turn out this way," she said.
Ms Carol Pippin, 69, brought two little crochet boxes she made for Ms Berry and stood watching from the lawn next door. "I'm so glad she made the attempt to get out and that the neighbour heard her," she said.
Ms Jessica Duna, a 50-year-old housekeeper, came to lend neighbourhood support and felt overwhelmed as the black SUV with FBI agents and a police motorcycle escort brought Ms Berry back to her sister's home.
"Oh my God, it just stopped my heart," she said. "It's just sad that her mother isn't here right now. It's heartbreaking."
There was no family homecoming for 32-year-old Michelle Knight, who spent 10 years with Ms Berry and Ms DeJesus in the non-descript Cleveland home owned by suspect Ariel Castro, who was in police custody awaiting charges.
Reportedly in worse condition following the ordeal than the others, her family has been divided by the tragedy, and she remains in hospital.