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Miracle in Cleveland 10 years later: How Seymour Avenue has evolved since rescue

The pastor of the church just a few doors down from where the women were held hostage for more than a decade looks at how the community was forever changed.

CLEVELAND — It was on Seymour Avenue on Cleveland's west side where three women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight — took back their freedom after escaping the captivity of Ariel Castro a decade ago.

"A shocking miracle, really," says 93-year-old Rev. Horst Hoyer, the pastor emeritus of Immanuel Lutheran Church. The church held several vigils as the community prayed for the safe return home of the missing women. 

Hoyer remembers how May 6, 2013, impacted not only his church, but the community.

"Can you imagine all the sightseers coming in with their cars? They just totally blocked this section of the street off," he recalls.

The church sits just three doors down from the spot of Castro's home where the women were held for a decade. After their escape, the church parking lot turned into a command post for law enforcement. 

Ten years later, Hoyer says the neighborhood has changed.

"The neighborhood, we were all of different backgrounds, economic situations. We were a mosaic on the street, but everybody was open to anybody," he adds.

A once vibrant and welcoming community has evolved from what it once was. Most of Castro's neighbors from 10 years ago have now moved on. 

"It's changing," Hoyer says. "All new buildings, remodelings, and you see the renaissance of the neighborhood as I call it, it drove people out because they couldn't afford the rent and had to find cheaper quarters. That was the sad thing."

Hoyer, who became the church's pastor in 1980, remembers doing an interview with a reporter in May 2013 when she received a call — and something astounding happened. 

The 3,800-pound bell, once a staple of the church that rang every Sunday, rang for the last time on the day Ariel Castro confessed. 

"The minute that bell started ringing, the good lady got a call on her cell from her partner at the courthouse and said 'Castro just confessed.'" Hoyer remembered. "This was with the ringing of the bell. Now, as a man of God, I looked up to the Lord and said ,'You did it Lord.' The bell never made another sound. It stopped."

That bell had been functioning inside the church since 1904. It broke that day and would cost the parish thousands of dollars to repair. 

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