The mother and father of Gina DeJesus, one of three women held captive for a decade in a run-down Cleveland home, welcomed their daughter back home to the cheers of a jubilant crowd of loved ones and neighbors.
The family protectively shielded DeJesus, 23, as they rushed past reporters and onlookers toward her home.
“She was so happy,” Sandra Ruiz, Gina’s aunt said. “She looked at the house and wanted a tour.”
Gina did not speak to the press. But her parents, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz, who had continued a relentless search for their daughter for nearly a decade, spoke about how grateful they were to have their daughter back. Gina was 14 when she disappeared while walking home from school on April 2, 2004.
“I knew she needed me and I never gave up,” her father told reporters outside his home Wednesday. “I never gave up searching for her.”
In a speech stirring with emotional, Ruiz described the moment she first embraced her daughter.
“I grabbed her and hugged her. I didn’t want to let her go,” she said. “I still feel that it is a dream, I still pinch myself, I know she’s there and I know she’s going to be there, but it still feels like a dream.”
DeJesus, Amanda Berry, 27, and Michelle Knight, 30, have not given details of what happened inside the home throughout the decade of captivity. The home is owned by Ariel Castro, 52. Charges were expected to be announced Wednesday against Castro and his brothers Onil, 50, and Pedro, 54. Police said they apparently bound their captives with ropes and chains.
Berry also arrived at her sister's home, which was similarly festooned with dozens of colorful balloons and signs, one reading "We Never Lost Hope Mandy." Hundreds cheered wildly but weren't able to get a glimpse of Berry as she went in through the back.
In a development that astonished and exhilarated much of Cleveland, the three women were rescued on Monday after Berry broke through a screen door at the Castro house and called police.
Neighbors have said they reported to police witnessing naked women on leashes in the yard and loud banging coming from the home.
“She prayed,” Ruiz said of her daughter’s unwavering faith in the face of horror. “She spoke to God, just as I did.”
Charles Ramsey, a local resident eating McDonalds across the street from the home, first noticed Berry and helped her break through the screen door that eventually led to the women’s freedom.
“We want to get together and thank him,” Ruiz said. “It was awesome what he did. He could have turned his back and he chose not to. He chose to help her.”
Ruiz thanked her neighbors and everybody that believed that her daughter was alive. The DeJesus family continued to organize annual vigils, searches, helped put up posters, and yellow ribbons in the West Side neighborhood, despite those who doubted her daughter was still alive.
“Even the ones that doubted, I want to thank them the most, because they are the ones that made me stronger, that made me feel the most that she was out there,” Ruiz said.
Felix DeJesus vowed to devote the rest of his life to becoming an activist for missing children.
“My job is not done,” he told the crowd. “I am the one that kept this family together. I am the one who had the heart and soul to fight and see this day because I knew my daughter was out there alive.”
The DeJesus family has known the Castros for a long. Remarkably, Gina DeJesus’ parents offered their forgiveness to the suspected captors who stole their loved one away for nearly a decade.
“Because we are all God’s children,” Sandra Ruiz said. “Our family will forgive them, but we won’t forget.”
For now though, Ruiz said she was focusing on other matters.
“This is the best Mother’s Day gift I ever had,” she said.
Bryan Llenas currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC) and a reporter for Fox News Latino (FNL).
Follow him on Twitter @BryanLlenas.