Ohio suspect Ariel Castro charged with kidnap, rape; no charges filed against brothers

Castro attended vigil for missing girl

CLEVELAND - A man suspected of keeping three women captive inside his decrepit house for a decade was charged Wednesday with kidnapping and rape, accused of holding them under conditions so oppressive they were allowed outside for only a few moments in disguise and never saw a chance to escape until this week.

Investigators said the women apparently were bound with ropes and chains, and a city councilman briefed on the case said they were subjected to prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and suffered miscarriages.

Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, was charged with four counts of kidnapping -- covering the captives and the daughter born to one of them -- and three counts of rape, against all three women.

The women, now in their 20s and 30s, vanished separately between 2002 and 2004. At the time, they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.

Prosecutors brought no charges against Castro's two brothers, who were arrested along with him on Monday, saying there was no evidence they had any part in the crime.

Castro owns the run-down home where the women were rescued on Monday after one of them, Amanda Berry, broke through a screen door to freedom while he was away. The discovery electrified Cleveland, where many people had come to believe the missing young women were dead.

Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said it was the only opportunity they ever had to escape.

"Something must have clicked, and she saw an opportunity and she took that opportunity," he said.

Tomba said the women could remember being outside only twice during their time in captivity.

"We were told they left the house and went into the garage in disguise," he said.

The women were not kept in the same room but knew about one another, he said.

He also said a paternity test on Castro was being done to establish who fathered Berry's 6-year-old daughter.

At a news conference, authorities would not discuss the circumstances of the women's kidnappings or give further details about their ordeals. But City Councilman Brian Cummins said: "We know that the victims have confirmed miscarriages, but with who, how many and what conditions we don't know."

"It sounds pretty gruesome," he added.

Castro was in custody Wednesday and couldn't be reached for comment. A brother-in-law has said the family was shocked after hearing about the women at the home.

Neighbors said that over the years, Castro took part in the search for one of the women, Gina DeJesus, helped pass out fliers, performed music at a fundraiser for her and attended a candlelight vigil, at which he comforted her mother.

None of the women said anything that indicated Castro's brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, were involved, Tomba said.

"Ariel kept everyone at a distance," he said.

A court hearing for Ariel Castro was set for Thursday morning.

The deputy chief also said there was no evidence to indicate any of the women had been outside without clothes, despite claims from a neighbor who said a naked woman was seen crawling around the backyard.

Cleveland police have disputed claims by neighbors that officers had been called to the house before for suspicious circumstances. They said nothing in their records supports that.

Earlier Wednesday, Berry, 27, and DeJesus, who is in her early 20s, were welcomed home by jubilant crowds of loved ones and neighbors with balloons and banners. Family members protectively took them inside, past hundreds of reporters and onlookers.

Neither woman spoke.

"Give us time and privacy to heal," said Sandra Ruiz, DeJesus' aunt. Ruiz urged the public not to retaliate against the Castros or their families.

DeJesus' father pumped his fist after arriving home with his daughter and urged people across the country to watch over the children in their neighborhoods, including other people's kids.

"Too many kids these days come up missing, and we always ask this question: How come I didn't see what happened to that kid? Why? Because we chose not to," he said

The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported in good condition at Metro Health Medical Center, which a day earlier had reported that all three victims had been released. There was no immediate explanation from the hospital.

The Associated Press does not usually identify people who may be victims of sexual assault, but the names of the women were widely circulated by their families, friends and law enforcement authorities for years during their disappearances and after they were found.

Castro also was questioned about 14-year-old Ashley Summers, who disappeared near his house in 2007. But Tomba said there was no new information linking that case to Castro.

While prosecutors announced charges against Castro, federal agents searched a vacant house near where the women had been held. Officials would not say why they were there.

A 2005 domestic-violence filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court accused Castro of twice breaking the nose of his children's mother, knocking out a tooth, dislocating each shoulder and threatening to kill her and her daughters three or four times in a year.

The filing for a protective order by Grimilda Figueroa also said that Castro frequently abducted her daughters and kept them from her. Figueroa died a year ago.

Ohio suspect searched for missing girl

In the years after his friend's daughter vanished while walking home from school, Ariel Castro handed out fliers with the 14-year-old's photo and performed music at a fundraiser held in her honor.

When neighbors 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 neighborhood, seemed shaken by the 2004 disappearance of Gina DeJesus and another teenager who went missing the year before.

Now he is in custody after a frantic 911 call led police to his run-down house, where authorities say DeJesus and two other women missing for about a decade were held captive.

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

Berry went to her sister's home Wednesday morning. Shortly after, her sister Beth Serrano thanked everyone for their effort and support over the years, adding "please respect our privacy until we are ready to make our statement, and thank you."

As word of Berry's homecoming spread, a large crowd swelled in the street outside the home decorated with dozens of balloons, and homemade signs, one reading "We Never Lost Hope Mandy."

A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry's daughter also was found in the home Monday, police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said. He wouldn't 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 neighbor 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 Tuesday. They were rescued after Berry kicked out the bottom portion of a locked screen door and used a neighbor's telephone to call 911. An officer showed up minutes later and Berry ran out and threw her arms around the officer, a neighbor said.

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 brother 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 Monday.

Police would not say how the women were taken captive or whether they were sexually assaulted. Police spokesman Sammy Morris confirmed on Wednesday that the ropes and chains were among evidence collected inside the house by law enforcement officials.

Police Chief Michael McGrath told NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday that the women were restrained and "released out in the back yard once in a while."

McGrath said he was "absolutely" sure police did everything they could to find the women over the years. He disputed claims by neighbors that officers had been called to the house before for suspicious circumstances. "We have no record of those calls coming in over the past 10 years," he said.

Investigators also are talking with relatives of at least one other missing woman from the neighborhood.

The aunt of a 14-year-old girl who disappeared in 2007 near the house where the missing women were found says the girl's mother has spoken with the FBI about her niece.

"We're hoping for our miracle too," said Debra Summers, who described her niece, Ashley Summers, as not the type of girl who would leave without coming back.

Ariel Castro owned the home where the three girls were found in a neighborhood 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.

Most everyone in the neighborhood knew Ariel Castro.

Neighbors say he played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands and gave neighborhood 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."

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

One neighbor, 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.

Cleveland officials said an internal review of police communications records found that officers went to the house twice since 2000 on unrelated calls.

"Media reports of multiple calls to the Cleveland Police reporting suspicious activity and the mistreatment of women at 2207 Seymour are false," city spokeswoman Maureen Harper said in a statement.

Two neighbors 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 neighbor, 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.

"Everyone in the neighborhood did what they had to do," said Lupe Collins, who is close to relatives of the women. "The police didn't do their job."

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

Michelle Knight's mother, Barbara Knight, told the "Today" show that she hasn't seen her daughter yet, but hopes she knows she loves and missed her. She said they had a tense relationship before Michelle's disappearance and at the time thought her daughter maybe just didn't want to see her family anymore. She said Michelle Knight's child had been removed from the home just before her disappearance, and thought perhaps she had vanished because she was upset about "the baby."

"I know she's probably angry at the world because she probably thought she'd never be found," she said.

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

In 1993, Castro was arrested two days after Christmas on a domestic-violence charge and spent three days in jail before he was released on bond. The case was presented to a grand jury, but no indictment was returned, according to court documents, which don't detail the allegations. It's unclear who brought the charge against Castro, who was living at the home from which the women escaped Monday.

Four years ago, in another poverty-stricken part of town, police were heavily criticized following the discovery of 11 women's bodies in the home and backyard of Anthony Sowell, who was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

The families of Sowell's victims accused police of failing to properly investigate the disappearances because most of the women were addicted to drugs and poor. For months, the stench of death hung over the house, but it was blamed on a sausage factory next door.

Following public outrage over the killings, a panel formed by the mayor recommended an overhaul of the city's handling of missing-person and sex crime investigations.

Many of the women's loved ones and friends had held out hope of seeing them again

For years, Berry's mother kept her room exactly as it was, said Tina Miller, a cousin. When magazines addressed to Berry arrived, they were piled in the room alongside presents for birthdays and Christmases she missed. Berry's mother died in 2006.

Just over a month ago, Miller attended a vigil marking the 10th anniversary of Berry's disappearance.

Over the past decade or so, investigators twice dug up backyards looking for Berry and continued to receive tips about her and DeJesus every few months, even in recent years. The disappearance of the two girls was profiled on TV's "America's Most Wanted" in 2005. Few leads ever came in about Knight.

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.

Jessica Aponce, 24, said she walked home with DeJesus the day the teenager disappeared.

"She called her mom and told her mom she was on her way home and that's the last time I seen her," Aponce said. "I just can't wait to see her. I'm just so happy she's alive. It's been so many years that everybody thinking she was dead."

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's CEO, John Ryan, said Berry, DeJesus and Knight likely would be honored by his group.

"I think they're going to be at the top of the list," he said.

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