Cookeville Couple Meet ‘Hero of Cleveland’

Once again, a riveting national news story has a local connection.

Last month in this column, I wrote about Cookeville runner Tracy Epps, who witnessed the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Now I’ve learned that Cookevillians Jim and Donna Winningham, who just happen to be my granddaughter Emily’s “other” grandparents, have ties to the infamous kidnapping story out of Cleveland, Ohio.

If you haven’t had your head completely buried in the sand for the past several
days, you know that, on May 6, an astonishing discovery was made in a run-down Cleveland neighborhood. Three young women—Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight—who disappeared a decade ago were found imprisoned but alive in a house belonging to 52-year-old Ariel Castro. Amanda Berry’s six-year-old daughter, apparently fathered by Castro, was also discovered and rescued.

The hero of the story is Castro’s next-door neighbor Charles Ramsey.

In the days since Ramsey heard Berry screaming for help from behind a barricaded door and helped her escape, he has become a celebrity. Ramsey’s TV news interview, during which he uttered the now-famous line “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms,” has gone viral on the internet. It’s even been “songified,” a term I’d never heard until a couple of days ago. Googling it took me to Urban Dictionary, which defines “songify” as “to make a song out of stuff that wasn’t originally intended to be a song.”

Alrighty then.

To see the song for yourself, go to, type in “Dead Giveaway”
and prepare to be entertained.

Because he mentioned he was eating a Big Mac when the commotion next door began, McDonald’s corporate office has also jumped onto the Charles Ramsey-fan bandwagon. “We’ll be in touch,” they promised him soon after the interview.

So what does all of this have to do with the Winninghams?

They were in Cleveland visiting their son and his family last week when the story
broke. “It was all over the news,” Donna told me. “You couldn’t turn on the television or open a newspaper without the rescue being the first thing you saw.” She didn’t, however, pay much attention to what Charles Ramsey looked like.

Not so with Jim. As he and Donna stood in an uncharacteristically uncrowded security line at the Cleveland airport a few days later, Jim immediately recognized the man standing in front of them. “Hey, that’s him,” he told Donna. “The guy that rescued those kidnapped women.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. I’ve been watching him on TV all week.”

Next thing Jim knew, Donna—who is not at all bashful–introduced herself to Ramsey and asked for his autograph and a picture. He said yes, as is evidenced by the photo that accompanies this column.

“He just lit up like he was so flattered to be recognized,” Jim told me. “I shook his hand and said ‘Hey, buddy, I appreciate what you did’ and he said ‘Nah, anybody would have done the same thing.’ ”

That’s pretty much where this story ends. Except for Jim’s takeaway of the brief encounter. “Charles Ramsey was very friendly, very genuine. What you saw on television was exactly what we witnessed in person—the kind of guy who meant it when he said, ‘Don’t give me the reward money. Give it to the rescued girls.’ In my mind, he’s a real hero. It was an honor to meet him.”

(May 19, 2013)


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