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Emotional homecoming for US kidnap victims

Friends and neighbours await a car carrying Amanda Berry to arrive at her sister's house, May 8, 2013 in Cleveland
Friends and neighbours await a car carrying Amanda Berry to arrive at her sister's house, May 8, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. Two of the three young American women who were rescued this week after a decade spent imprisoned and tormented in a kidnapper's house

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.

The third remained in hospital, as police interrogated the man accused 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 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."

A police car and members of the Guardian Angels stand in front of Gina DeJesus's family house on May 8, 2013
A police car and members of the Guardian Angels stand in front of Gina DeJesus's family house on May 8, 2013.

The crowd broke into applause as she rushed back inside and one woman gasped: "Oh, that poor girl."

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 home where they were being held in a working-class neighborhood.

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.

"She's ecstatic to be home, she's happy. Her face, her smile, the hugging says it all," her mother, Nancy Ruiz, told reporters.

"It's like a dream," Ruiz added. "My first reaction as I saw my daughter, the only thing I did was grab her and hug her. I didn't want to let go."

Gina's father thanked God for the safe return of his daughter, and vowed to help the parents of other missing children.

"I knew my daughter was out there, I knew she needed me and I never gave up searching for her," Felix DeJesus said.

"My job is never done. I've become an activist to help the kids who are missing."

Gina's aunt urged people not to "retaliate against the family and suspect of this crime."

"Because we are all God's family, we forgive them," Sandra Ruiz said. "But we won't forget. They will have to respond to the high and mighty."

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.

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 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.

Jessica Duna, a 50-year-old housekeeper, came to lend neighborhood support and felt overwhelmed as the black SUV with FBI agents and a police motorcycle escort brought Berry back to her sister's home.

"Oh my God, it just stopped my heart," she told AFP. "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 Berry and 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.