When some people in Milwaukee heard about the three missing women finally rescued from captivity after nearly 10 years, they immediately thought about Alexis Patterson. I know I did.
Just last week Milwaukeeans took time to recognize the 11th anniversary of the disappearance of the precious 7-year-old Alexis, who went missing in 2002 after her stepfather dropped her off at school.
When the news came Monday about three women found in a home in Cleveland who had been missing for years – one of them reportedly with a child – it was another sensational story for tabloid media and cable news to fixate on with laser-like intensity.
The still emerging story about the circumstances that led to the arrests of three kidnappers who kept Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight in captivity for all this time has been shocking to the point of disbelief.
Three women abducted as young women or teenagers kept against their will even as their stories were being prominently reported in the media as "missing persons" that had family and friends urgently searching for clues about their whereabouts. Added to the shocking discovery that they had been held just miles from their respective abductions was the troubling news from police that the women may have been sexually assaulted by their kidnappers and even made pregnant.
Berry reportedly escaped with a 6-year-old daughter; early reports suggested there could have been other pregnancies that resulted in babies that didn't survive.
Berry went missing in 2003 at the age of 17 after finishing her shift at Burger King. DeJesus disappeared at age 14 in 2004 while Knight reported vanished in 2002 at age 19, according to police.
Three brothers between the ages of 50 and 54 have been arrested; Ariel Castro, Pedro J. Castro and Onil Castro. Criminal charges are sure to come within the next day or so. More salacious details about the case are likely to come, as well.
The discovery of the house of horrors in Cleveland was somewhat eased by the celebration of the missing women's families who had never given up hope for their safe return.
Rather than focus on the unseemly nature of things, the joy and hope that accompanied the final resolution of these missing persons cases sent an encouraging message to all of the people still in search of missing children or young adults.
Child abduction experts have already expressed the hope that this shocking case in Cleveland could spur more people to open their eyes to suspicious goings-on in their own communities. Frankly, the fact that three women could be kept captive in a residential area for years without any neighbors noticing something is a telling commentary on contemporary society.
How many people live in neighborhoods with that strange homeowner on the block who just doesn't seem right but nobody's willing to say anything? Maybe it's time to be more of our brothers' – and sisters' – keepers.
The most positive aspect of the Cleveland missing women story to date has been the focus on the rescuer, Charles Ramsey, a colorful neighbor who heard Berry calling for help after her captor left the house and helped to break down the door to allow her to escape and call 911.
In video interviews that went viral, Ramsey, who is African-American, gave his account of how he became the unlikely hero: "I'm eating my McDonalds, I come outside and I see this girl going nuts, trying to get out the house. I got on the porch and she said 'Help me get out. I've been here a long time.'"
Ramsey told reporters that he didn't know his neighbor that well after living next to him for just about a year but did see him on occasion. His comments on the way Berry and her daughter reacted after he managed to free them from the house immediately made him an internet sensation and trending topic on Twitter.
"I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms," said Ramsey. "Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway."
Hopefully, there are more Charles Ramseys out there who may one day help return a missing child or adult to the people who have never given up searching for them.
It might even be Alexis Patterson.
Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.
Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.