'Hoping for a miracle': Will Cleveland probe find 4th missing girl?

'Hoping for a miracle': Will Cleveland probe find 4th missing girl?
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Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 6:09pm

The discovery of three young women missing for a decade in Cleveland immediately raised the hopes of the family of a fourth missing woman.

After all, Ashley Summers was just like two of the three discovered women: Cleveland teenagers who all disappeared within five blocks of each other over a four-year span.

The anticipation for Summers' family was heightened momentarily when authorities said they had yet to identify one of the three discovered women.

Was it Ashley? Could it be Ashley, who went missing almost six years ago at age 14?

"At first, when they said the third girl wasn't identified, I was hoping one would be Ashley," said her aunt, Debra Summers.

Ashley Summers' mother expressed similar emotions. "She said, 'Oh, my God' -- just hoping it was Ashley," Debra Summers, 30, said of her sister Jennifer Summers, 33, who wasn't immediately available for interviews Tuesday.

But the third woman held in captivity for a decade was someone else, not Ashley, authorities announced.

"I was upset, but I was happy at the same time that they found the third girl," Debra Summers said.

Now the Summers family is hoping that the investigation into the three women's decade-long captivity will yield information about Ashley, who disappeared on July 6, 2007.

"We're hoping that it's connected, and they knew where she was," Summers said of the investigation. "We're hoping for a miracle."

Investigators questioned three brothers about Summers, but police said Wednesday they had no new leads. Only one brother, Ariel Castro, will be charged in the kidnappings, police said.

"There is no new information that's come to light about her: Ashley Summers is an active, open investigation," Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba told reporters Wednesday. "I can assure you that her disappearance was part of our questioning of the three subjects that we brought in."

Investigators will speak to the three discovered women to see if they know anything about Summers' disappearance, said Special Agent Vicki Anderson, of the FBI Cleveland Division.

The discovery of the three women might prompt someone who has information -- but never said anything -- to call authorities, she said.

"We're really very dependent on the public's assistance on things such as this, for them to be aware of people around them, to report things that are suspicious, to take a look at the pictures of these individuals who are missing and see if they recognize them," Anderson said.

Since Ashley Summers disappeared, "there's been no legitimate sightings, no accessing social media, anything," Anderson said.

Former FBI agent Jennifer Eakin said authorities have long believed in a link in the disappearances of Summers and two of the women discovered this week -- Amanda Berry and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus. Eakin is now a case manager at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which in 2008 held a comprehensive review of the cases with the FBI and Cleveland police.

"We did in fact believe there was an association between the Berry case and the DeJjesus case as well as the Summers case," Eakin said.

In 2009, CNN reported how the FBI was investigating connections between the three missing Cleveland teens. "We kind of put all three of these cases together to work them to see if there's any connection," FBI Special Agent Scott Wilson, in the agency's Cleveland Division, said then.

At the time, authorities said Ashley Summers was initially reported as a runaway after a family argument. Problem was, she never contacted her family again, authorities said.

"She's considered an endangered juvenile who may have been a runaway and possibly abducted," Anderson said.

The Summers family is also renewing their efforts to publicize Ashley's disappearance. The FBI's missing person website says Ashley Summers has a tattoo of "Gene" enclosed in a heart on her upper arm, and her birthday is June 16, 1993, making her 19 years old.

Jennifer Summers, a restaurant cook, has seven other children, whose ages range from 2 to 16, and Ashley is her oldest, said Debra Summers, a shipping clerk who lives in Parma, Ohio.

Debra Summers last saw her niece two weeks before she disappeared.

"She just hanged around the house and talked about her boyfriend and the usual stuff," Debra Summers said. "She actually wanted to move in with me, and I said yeah, but she never came."

Ashley Summers left her mother's home, where four younger siblings were then also living, and instead moved to her great-uncle's residence, so she could be closer to friends, Debra Summers said.

Then she vanished.

-- HLN's Phil Rosenbaum contributed to this report.

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