Suspect helped look for missing US women

2013-05-08 15:04
A man shows page one of The Plain Dealer newspaper to a friend while people gather along Seymour Avenue near the house where three women, who disappeared as teens about a decade ago, were found alive, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/A

A man shows page one of The Plain Dealer newspaper to a friend while people gather along Seymour Avenue near the house where three women, who disappeared as teens about a decade ago, were found alive, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/A

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Cleveland — The suspect in the case of three women who were rescued this week, 10 years after they went missing, had been active in neighbourhood searches and vigils for the girls, neighbours say.

When neighbours gathered for a candlelight vigil just a year ago to remember the girl, Castro was there too, comforting the girl's mother. Castro, just like everyone else in the tight-knit, mostly Puerto Rican neighbourhood, seemed shaken by the 2004 disappearance of Gina DeJesus and another teenager who went missing the year before.

Now he and his brothers are in custody after a frantic call to emergency officials led police to his run-down house, where authorities say DeJesus and two other women missing for about a decade were held captive.

No charges have been filed against the men, but they could appear in court as early as Wednesday morning.

Amanda Berry, aged 27, Michelle Knight, aged 32, and DeJesus, about 23 years old, had apparently been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s, police said.

A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry's daughter also was found in the home, police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said. He would not say who the father was.


About a week ago, Castro took the 6-year-old girl to a nearby park, where they played in the grass, said Israel Lugo, a neighbour who lives down the street. "I asked him whose kid was it, and he told me his girlfriend's daughter," Lugo said.

The women were reunited with joyous family members but remained in seclusion on Tuesday. They were rescued after a neighbour helped Berry kick out the bottom portion of a locked screen door and used another neighbour's telephone to call authorities. An officer showed up minutes later and Berry ran out and threw her arms around the officer, a neighbour said.

Police identified the other two suspects as the 52-year-old Castro's brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50. Calls to the jail went unanswered, and there was no response to interview requests sent to police, the jail and city officials.

A relative of the three brothers said their family was "totally shocked" after hearing about the missing women being found at the home.

Juan Alicea said the arrests of his wife's brothers had left relatives "as blindsided as anyone else" in their community. He said he hadn't been to the home of his brother-in-law Ariel Castro since the early 1990s but had eaten dinner with Castro at a different brother's house shortly before the arrests were made on Monday.

Police would not say how the women were taken captive or how they were hidden in the neighbourhood where they had vanished. Investigators also would not say whether they were kept in restraints inside the house or sexually assaulted.

House always locked

Ariel Castro owned the home where the girls were found in a neighbourhood dotted with boarded-up houses just south of downtown.

His son, Anthony Castro, said in an interview with London's Daily Mail newspaper that he now speaks with his father just a few times a year and seldom visited his house. He said on his last visit, two weeks ago, his father wouldn't let him inside.

"The house was always locked," he said. "There were places we could never go. There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage."

Anthony Castro, who lives in Columbus, also wrote an article for a community newspaper in Cleveland about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus just weeks after she went missing, when he was a college journalism student.

"That I wrote about this nearly 10 years ago — to find out that it is now so close to my family — it's unspeakable," he told The Plain Dealer newspaper.

Almost everyone in the neighbourhood knew Ariel Castro.

Happy, respectful

Neighbours say he played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands and gave neighbourhood children rides on his motorcycle.

Tito DeJesus, an uncle of Gina DeJesus, played in bands with Castro over the last 20 years. He recalled visiting Castro's house but never noticing anything out of the ordinary.

Juan Perez, who lives two doors down from the house, said Castro was always happy and respectful. "He gained trust with the kids and with the parents. You can only do that if you're nice," Perez said.

Castro also worked until recently as a school bus driver.

He was friends with the father of Gina DeJesus, one of the missing women, and helped search for her after she disappeared, said Khalid Samad, a friend of the family.

"When we went out to look for Gina, he helped pass out fliers," said Samad, a community activist who was at the hospital with DeJesus and her family on Monday night. "You know, he was friends with the family."

Internal police review

Antony Quiros said he was at the vigil about a year ago and saw Castro comforting Gina DeJesus' mother.

One neighbour, Francisco Cruz, said he was with Castro the day investigators dug up a yard looking for the girls.

Castro told Cruz, "They're not going to find anyone there," Cruz recalled.

Police now are conducting an internal review to see if they overlooked anything.

City Safety Director Martin Flask said on Tuesday that investigators had no record of anyone calling about criminal activity at the house but were still checking police, fire and emergency databases.

Two neighbours said they called police to the Castro house on separate occasions.


Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard several years ago and called police. "But they didn't take it seriously," she said.

Another neighbour, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of the house in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. "They walked to side of the house and then left," he said.

Police did go to the house twice in the past 15 years, but not in connection with the women's disappearance, officials said.

Knight vanished at age 20 in 2002. Berry disappeared at 16 in 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. About a year later, DeJesus vanished.

Knight's mother says she hasn't spoken to her daughter yet, but she hopes she knows she loves her and missed her the whole time.

Barbara Knight tells NBC's Today show that when her daughter disappeared police and she thought she maybe just didn't want to see her family anymore.

She says her daughter's child had been removed from the home just before her disappearance. She says she thought Michelle vanished because she was upset about "the baby".

She says she knows her daughter is likely angry at the world "because she probably thought she'd never be found".

Knight adds that she hopes their past tension can heal, and she wants to take her daughter back to Florida, where she now lives.

Read more on:    us  |  abductions  |  cleveland kidnappings

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