independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Ohio kidnapping: Son reveals father padlocked basement doors because 'we weren't allowed to go there'

THE son of Ariel Castro, the man accused of keeping three women captive for a decade in the US, has told how his father padlocked doors leading to the basement of his house and never allowed his family inside.

Anthony Castro, 31, said he was shocked at his father's alleged crimes. He said that he had not been to the house at 2207 Seymour Avenue, in Cleveland, Ohio, for "longer than 20 minutes for longer than I can remember".

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

A search of the Ohio house and property where three woman were found after about a decade in captivity did not uncover any human remains, Cleveland authorities said today.

Director of Public Safety Martin Flask said in a statement that "a thorough search of the scene" at the house "did not reveal human remains."

Mr Castro, 31, said that his father had asked him only last month whether he thought the kidnapping of Amanda Berry, one of the victims, would ever be solved.

When he told his father he thought it likely that Berry, who went missing in 2003, was dead, Ariel replied: "Really? You think so?"

Anthony Castro, a banker who lives in Columbus, Ohio, said his father had beaten him, and also nearly beat his mother to death when she was recovering from  brain surgery in 1993, MailOnline reported.

His mother Grimilda "Nilda" Figueroa, moved him and his three sisters out of the house in 1996. Ms Figueroa died last year.

Events at Seymour Avenue began unfolding in the late afternoon on Monday when aneighbour, Charles Ramsey, heard a commotion. “I heard screaming,” he said. “I’m eating my McDonald’s. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house.” He forced the door open and Ms Berry crawled out, followed by a six-year-old girl.

Mr Ramsey, speaking to reporters yesterday, acknowledged that when he began dialling 911, he  had not quite cottoned on to the name of the young woman he was helping. Then it struck him – this was Amanda Berry, the disappeared girl that most people long ago had given up for dead. That was at 5.52pm. The police arrived two minutes later and forced their way in.

It may be days before all the grim secrets of 2207 Seymour are fully disclosed. Yet this has been a fast-moving drama. Once inside, the police found two other women who also had been on their missing person’s list for a decade or so. They were Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004 aged 14 while walking home from school, and Michelle Knight, who was 18 or 19 when she went missing in 2002.

Nor was it long before they had arrested not one but three men on suspicion of holding the three women captive for all those years – the owner of the house, identified as 52-year-old Ariel, a former school bus driver for the city, and his two brothers, Pedro and Onil Castro, also in their fifties, who seemingly lived close by. All three men remained in custody, yet the questions only multiplied. What exactly had happened to those women at the address – a detached house with a small garden – during all those years? How had none of them managed to break out until Monday? In a tight neighbourhood with many other Latin immigrant residents, did no one ever have any suspicions? And did the police fall down on their original investigation?

It appears that Ariel Castro and the police weren’t strangers. In 2000, Mr Castro himself called officers about a fight that had erupted outside his home. Then in January 2004, he came briefly under investigation for leaving his bus at the depot after a shift with a child still inside. Police came to his home but left when no one answered. He was eventually interviewed by the authorities who accepted it had been an “inadvertent” mistake on his part and the case was dropped. Michelle Knight went missing in 2002, Amanda Berry in April 2003; both were almost certainly in the property at the time. Georgina DeJesus vanished three months after the police came knocking.

What we will learn from the women of Seymour Avenue may be slow to materialise. Last night the local TV station Channel 3 News, quoting unnamed police sources, claimed they were forced to have sex with their captors and that there may have been multiple pregnancies in the house, some of which did not reach full term. The same sources also reported that the women were beaten, and that investigators found patches of “disturbed” dirt in the property’s back yard. No police spokesman was available to comment on the reports.

One neighbour told the Associated Press a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago.

Another heard pounding on the home's doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows. Both times, police showed up but never went inside, neighbours said.

At a first press conference yesterday, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath described the women as “the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance”, but said his officers would take their inquiries slowly. “Some questions may impact their emotions, their state of mind right now,” he said. “You are going to have to be patient with us.” He did indicate, however, that he believed the women had been tied up in the home, while witnesses claimed to have seen chains hanging from the ceiling. Police also said that the six-year-old girl inside was Ms Berry’s daughter. Who the father might be, they would not say, but she was clearly born in captivity. Neighbours reported seeing Ariel Castro often walking with a girl through the neighbourhood.

Yesterday Amanda Berry was photographed in hospital with her daughter and her older sister Beth Serrano, who has continued to search for her since their mother died in 2006. Beth’s husband Ted Serrano told local station WOIO: “She said (Amanda)’s OK, she’s got a daughter. She said she looks good.” The other victims’ families were equally delighted and disbelieving. Michelle Knight’s mother told the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “So much has happened in these 10 years. She has a younger sister she still has not met.” Michelle’s cousin Tesheena added: “I’m going to hold her, and I’m going to squeeze her and I probably won’t let her go.”

Last night, as FBI specialists were scouring the house, officials insisted that they had never stopped looking for new leads. “Not a year went by ... when we didn’t have some lead generated by the public of by the families,” FBI agent Stephen Anthony said. “Rest assured the FBI will bring every resource to bear ... to bring full weight of justice for those responsible in this horrific, horrific case.”

There was shock in the neighbourhood, expressed even by Julio Castro, an uncle of the three men who owns a grocery shop on a nearby corner. “Stunned, stunned,” he said about his reaction to the news, adding that he had mostly lost touch with Ariel and hadn’t been to the house for five years or so. “None whatsoever,” he said when asked if he had been given any reason to think something was wrong inside.

When more police began arriving on the block on Monday evening, locals who had heard the startling news lined the streets to cheer. “This isn’t the ending we usually have to these stories,” Gerald Maloney, a doctor at Metro Health Medical Centre where the three women were first taken, commented. “We’re very happy for them.”

Among those reflecting on the trauma the victims will now face was Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was abducted near her California home in 1991 aged 11 and held captive in the back garden of Phillip and Nancy Garrido in Antioch for 18 years. “These individuals need the opportunity to heal,” she said in a statement. “This isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them. The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More than ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope.”

In a bizarre twist, it emerged that Anthony Castro also wrote a news article about one of Cleveland’s vanished young women in 2004 as part of a journalism course. It was published by the local Plain Press news organisation and focused on Ms DeJesus, who now, it seems, was being held at the time by his own father. In it he describes a neighbourhood traumatised by the disappearances. “Almost everyone feels a connection with the [DeJesus] family,” he wrote,  “and Gina’s disappearance has the whole area talking.

Equally baffling was a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the hometown newspaper, revealing that the main suspect’s daughter, Arlene Castro, had been a school friend of Ms DeJesus.

A guest on the television show America’s Most Wanted in 2005 Ms Castro said the two of them had been walking home from school together the night she vanished. Ms DeJesus had even telephoned her mother to ask if Ms Castro could come to their house to hang out. Apparently the girl’s mother said no, and, according to the younger Castro the two simply parted ways at that point. It wasn’t clear where Arlene, who was fourteen at the time, was when the interview was recorded or indeed where she is now.

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