By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - More than $800,000 in donations has poured in from around the world to help the three women found a month ago, held captive for a decade in a Cleveland house, officials said on Thursday.
The case has resulted as well in raising awareness of the plight of missing persons, said Cleveland City Councilwoman Dona Brady.
"It takes a tragedy sometimes to make things happen," she said. "The police are taking missing persons much more seriously."
Cleveland police came under fire for not finding Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry sooner.
On May 6, Berry, 27, was freed along with her 6-year-old daughter by neighbors from a house owned by Ariel Castro.
Berry had last been seen in 2003, and police say her child was fathered by Castro.
Cleveland police responded to Berry's 911 call and found DeJesus, 23, and Knight, 32, also in the house. Knight had disappeared in 2002 and DeJesus in 2004.
Castro, 52, is in jail on an $8 million bond and faces multiple charges of kidnapping and rape.
Brady and fellow council members Brian Cummins and Matt Zone set up the Cleveland Courage Fund, a tax-free trust for donations for the four victims.
So far, $825,000 has been collected from around the country and from various foreign countries.
The victims have started using money from the fund, said Chris Kelly, a co-trustee of the fund.
Concern also has prompted offers from doctors, dentists and people volunteering the use of vacation homes and cars, he said.
"The community is acting in a way you would hope they would act," Kelly said.
Kelly said the trust will be split equally four ways, as agreed upon by the three women.
The fund is designed to help them in all aspects of their lives, he said.
"Ten years out of society means not finishing school, no job training and not learning how to drive," he said.
There also is an attempt to get money for the victims from the state.
This week, State Rep. John Barnes Jr. of Cleveland introduced a bill that would award $25,000 a year, free medical care and state university tuition to any survivor of abduction held for eight years or more.
Cleveland police recently deployed a command bus to the city's crime-troubled east and west sides, with officers and FBI agents sent in to follow up tips and answer questions, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia.
The house where the women were held is boarded up and surrounded by a 10-foot-high chain link fence.
Cummins, who represents the neighborhood, said residents have discussed having the house torn down and planting four oak trees for the child and three women who escaped.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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