The story out of Cleveland about three young women kidnapped and held captive for a decade is a horrific tale that is only likely to get worse as the details emerge.
Kind of like the recent tragedies in Boston and West, Texas.
These three big, striking stories of the past month might seem, at first glance, dissimilar. One was an act of terrorism, another an industrial tragedy, and the third a kidnapping and imprisonment. All have one thing in common: They are dramatic reminders that one of the biggest challenges in this over-stimulated, tuned-out world is the need to simply be aware.
Public awareness helped law enforcement catch the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. In Cleveland, several alert neighbors helped Amanda Berry escape her captor and bring two more women to safety. Lack of awareness helped fuel the deadly fertilizer plant blast in West, where details of lax planning and ignorance by design have emerged.
Increasingly, we live cocooned lives, each new technological marvel becoming another thread spun onto our ever-thickening shells. We've got GPS in our cars, MP3 buds in our ears, text messages on our minds. A lack of awareness shows up in small ways every day. People suddenly braking, others cutting in front of others. Oblivious to even the existence of others.
Luckily for the three young women in Cleveland Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight and a 6-year-old reported to have been born to Berry during the imprisonment, folks in the neighborhood were aware. One neighbor heard pounding on doors. Another saw a figure in an upstairs window of a house that otherwise seemed abandoned. And finally, two men took action when a young woman yelled for help.
Yet why did it take as long as it did to figure out what was going on? Cleveland columnist Connie Schultz put it this way, "We all know that no one person is to blame, but everyone is at fault when we are a community of strangers."
In addition to Monday's heroism, neighbors say police were called to the Ariel Castro house, where the women were held, at least twice in recent years because of suspicious activities. Cleveland police, in the early stages of their investigation, have not confirmed those reports, but authorities are rightly investigating the claims of police inaction.
Perhaps it's fitting that the hero of the Cleveland story, along with the women themselves, is Charles Ramsey, who seemed alert to most everything happening around him. Ramsey's folksy, straight-talk interview with a television reporter has become a viral sensation on the Internet. Ramsey subsequently trumped that interview when he spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper and told him that any reward money should go to the kidnapping victims.
That is awareness at its finest.