Peter Lovenheim is the author of “In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.” He lives in Rochester, N.Y.
Do you know your neighbors well enough to realize whether something horrible is happening in the house down the street? To call them if you need help? To trust that they’d put themselves at risk to help you?
These were some of the first questions that came to my mind this past week as I watched — riveted, appalled and relieved — the unfolding story of three women rescued after a decade of captivity in a Cleveland house. Those who helped free Amanda Berry and her 6-year-old daughter, leading to the discovery of the two other women, weren’t police officers or detectives who’d been on the case for years. They were two neighbors: Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero.
Ramsey, apparently, had occasionally shared words and barbecue with the alleged kidnapper, Ariel Castro, before he saw Berry screaming for help at the door and answered her calls. Other neighbors are stating that they saw unusual, troubling things at the Castro house over the years — porch lights left on, a child at an attic window, even a woman crawling naked in the back yard. They say they called police, but police say they have no records of the calls.