Even the cops were surprised by what they discovered on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland.
"This might be for real," one officer, arriving on the scene Monday, told a dispatcher after Amanda Berry had called 911 and said she'd been kidnapped and held for 10 years by a man named Ariel Castro.
This might be for real, the officer said, as if the call might not have been.
The uncertainty quickly vanished as Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were also discovered in the dilapidated house. "We found 'em, we found em,” another official radioed as an emotional female voice could be heard in the background.
It's been three days since the discovery that has now led to rape and kidnapping charges against Castro, 52, who is suspected to have fathered a child with Berry while holding her in captivity. Yet shock remains the predominant emotion.
Speaking from Fort Wayne, Ind., Arlene Castro had been friends with one of the victims, Gina DeJesus, and said she had "no idea" her father had been keeping the women in his home. She said she rarely spoke to her father at length, with the last conversation coming last month.
Addressing DeJesus, Arlene Castro appeared to break down.
"I’m absolutely so, so sorry,” Castro said, her voice quivering before she broke into tears. “I really want to see you, Gina, and I want you to meet my kids. I’m so sorry for everything.”
In another Thursday morning interview, Berry's grandmother, Fern Gentry -- who learned Monday both that her missing granddaughter was alive and that she was now a great-grandmother -- also became emotional in recalling the weeks event's to the "Today" show.
“I just couldn’t believe it," Gentry said. "It’s unbelieveable. Just unbelievable.”
Berry's mother had died in 2006 after failing to find her daughter; in 2004, a TV psychic told her that Amanda was dead.
“I think we all pretty well died of a broken heart though, really," Gentry told Matt Lauer of "Today." "I mean, you know, when my grandaughter’s missing out of the home, there’s no rest for you. … It’s over now."
For the survivors, now comes the delicate period of recovery -- navigating reentry into their communities while surviving an onslaught of curiosity and the memories of what they endured.
“If she needs to talk to me about it, good, that’s fine," Gentry said. "But no, I’m not going to bother Amanda until she’s ready. Until Amanda’s ready to talk, I’ll give her room and space. She’ll know when to do it. She’s a tough girl. She’ll know."
The harrowing details of the women's captivity, however, have been emerging rapidly.
After a confidential police report was leaked to the media detailing the women's initial claims of abuse -- rape, starvation and a baby born in a plastic pool -- Cleveland's mayor ordered officials to curb the leaks for the survivors' sakes.
"As we allow the victims and their families to transition through this very difficult time, we need to give them space and time to heal," Mayor Frank G. Jackson said in a Thursday statement, in which he ordered city public safety employees to "cease and desist releasing information and records outside of the established chain of command and protocols."
"This is not for the sake of concealing any information. It is to demonstrate compassion for the victims and their families and to insure the credibility of the investigative process and allow us to arrive at a just conclusion to this difficult situation," Jackson said.
"I am asking everyone else -- the average citizen, public officials, the media -- to show good judgment in how they handle themselves in order to demonstrate their compassion and help guarantee the integrity of the investigation."
Jackson added, as if Cleveland were about to stride onstage -- a moment that already passed earlier this week -- "Remember, the eyes of the nation are on us."