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Editorial: Cleveland kidnapping lesson: reporting isn’t snooping

A Clevelpolice officer stands watch front house Seymour Street where three women were held captive for decade May 8 2013

A Cleveland police officer stands watch in front of the house on Seymour Street where three women were held captive for a decade, May 8, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. US police interrogated three brothers Wednesday as grim details began to emerge about how three young Ohio women were kidnapped and held captive for 10 years in an unremarkable city home. Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32, were freed from a home on Cleveland's Seymour Avenue on Monday, nearly ten years after they had each disappeared in separate incidents. The occupant of the home, a 52-year-old former school bus driver of Puerto Rican origin, Ariel Castro, has been arrested, along with his brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DunandEMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: June 10, 2013 2:06PM

Neighbors saw things.

There was a figure in an upstairs window, banging on the glass. There was a naked woman in the backyard. There was the sound of banging on the doors from the inside. There were groceries delivered late at night to a house that many people on the block thought had been abandoned.

Sometimes the neighbors called the police, sometimes not. How often is hard to say. The neighbors and the police tell different stories.

And during all this time, almost 10 years, three young women were being held captive inside, tied up and beaten and raped, lost to their families.

How does this happen right in the middle of a big city like Cleveland?

Already, the Cleveland police are being blamed, and perhaps rightly so. When a neighbor called the cops about the banging sounds, he says, an officer stopped by the house, knocked on the front door, waited a few minutes and left. When another neighbor called to say she had seen three naked women being held on leashes in the backyard, she says, the police never responded.

But why, then, didn’t the neighbor call again? And again. And what else did folks on Seymour Avenue see and hear and wonder about over almost 10 years?

For that matter, what did the families of the three suspected kidnappers see and hear and suspect?

It is human nature, and certainly the way of an editorial page, to try and draw useful lessons from a grim story such as this one. We find that difficult to do today, though, because we can’t get beyond the simple horror of it all. How will these three women — and the child to whom one of them gave birth — ever recover?

We can say this: Neighbors owe it to each other to take action when they see or suspect that something is creepily wrong. That’s not being a snoop. That’s being a good citizen.

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