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Mitchell: Heinous crimes could happen next door and most people wouldn’t have a clue

Updated: June 10, 2013 2:21PM

In horror movies, the sadistic kidnapper takes victims to an isolated place that no one would stumble upon.

But in real life, heinous crimes could be happening next door and most of us wouldn’t have a clue.

That’s the most shocking part of the Cleveland abductions. The kidnapper not only grabbed three women out of busy areas, but he held them for more than a decade in a house located on a residential block.

Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight managed to escape after Berry kicked out a portion of a locked screen door and a neighbor came to her rescue.

Charles Ramsey is being hailed as a hero for helping Berry escape the house of horrors.

Ariel Castro, 52, the owner of the house, was charged with kidnapping and raping the women.

What happened in the house on Seymour Street was unspeakable enough, but the fact that the abuses went on for a decade as a parade of people came and went makes me question the very concept of what it means to be a community.

These women weren’t kept in some underground bunker out in the back woods. They weren’t hidden away in a ghost town. These women were within shouting distance of people going about their daily business.

Worse yet, during the years that the three victims endured this ordeal, at least two of their neighbors claim they had notified Cleveland police about suspicious activity at the home.

Nina Samoylicz, who lives three doors down from the house, told CNN that she called police two years ago when she saw a naked woman in the backyard of the home. Another woman who lives in a nearby apartment building said she called police when she saw “three young girls crawling on all fours, naked with dog leashes around their necks” and that “three men were controlling them in the backyard.”

Police Chief Michael McGrath disputed those claims on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday.

“We have no record of those calls coming in over the past 10 years,” he said.

But the Cleveland Police Department does not have a good track record when it comes to investigating the disappearances of missing women.

In 2009, the bodies of 11 women were found in a home or buried in the backyard of a house in another poor area in Cleveland. Serial killer Anthony Sowell was convicted of the murders and given a death sentence.

But after families of the victims complained about how the investigations into the abductions were handled, the mayor formed a task force that recommended changes.

Given the public outrage over the mishandling of that case, you would think Cleveland police wouldn’t dare brush off a complaint about mysterious activity at another run-down house.

At the same time, it is pathetic that in 10 years only two or three people noticed something wrong at the Castro house.

That’s not an indictment of these particular neighbors.

It is an indictment of our society as a whole.

Most of us keep to ourselves and we don’t know our neighbors, let alone know what they are hiding behind closed doors.

“It is really unfortunate that in a civilized society that this kind of inhumane activity can go on right under the nose of people,” noted the Rev. Ira J. Acree, pastor of Chicago’s Greater St. John Bible Church on the West Side.

Acree is the uncle of Yasmin Acree, who vanished from her West Side home in 2008.

The 15-year-old’s disappearance was the subject of a TV One “Find Our Missing” episode that aired in 2012. Despite new information that surfaced in 2011 and a $10,000 reward fund, the case remains unsolved.

The Cleveland case raises the same old questions about how police officials handle missing persons investigations when lower-income neighborhoods are involved.

“Poor neighborhoods get racially profiled,” Acree said. “That was our issue in the beginning. The police dismissed Yasmin as a runaway.”

Still, something as horrible as what took place in the Cleveland house could not have gone on for so long had the neighborhood been more connected. But as we have learned from our own city’s fight against crime, most people aren’t going to intervene when they see wrongdoing. They may call 911.

If police don’t respond, it doesn’t just hurt the person that may be in trouble. It hurts an entire community.

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