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Ohio suspect helped neighbors look for the missing

CLEVELAND — About the time that neighbors kicked in a front door to free three women abducted and long imprisoned, the man now charged with their kidnapping was idling away an afternoon at his mother's home.

Ariel Castro, 52, had crossed the street to borrow a lawn mower Monday afternoon from a neighbor to cut his mother's postage-stamp lawn, then left with a brother to spend the afternoon drinking, neighbors said.

It was typical of the outwardly mundane life Castro led, which apparently included outings with a daughter he is believed to have fathered with one of the captives. Meanwhile, inside his house on Seymour Avenue, the three women, who last celebrated birthdays with their families about a decade ago, saw year after year perversely marked by Castro's serving of a cake on each woman's "abduction day," the New York Times reported, citing one victim's cousin.

On Wednesday, as new details of the women's ordeal emerged, Castro was charged with the rape and kidnapping of Amanda Berry, held 10 years; Gina DeJesus, held nine years; and Michelle Knight, held 11 years. He was also charged with kidnapping the 6-year-old daughter to whom Berry gave birth. Authorities said he would undergo a paternity test.

In their years as prisoners, the women never left the house except for two brief visits to the adjacent garage, police said.

"What the circumstances were inside that home and the control he may have had over those girls, we don't know," Ed Tomba, a deputy chief of the Cleveland police, said in announcing the charges. "That's going to take us a long time to figure out."

No charges were brought against Castro's two brothers who were arrested with him: Onil Castro, 50, and Pedro Castro, 54. Tomba said investigators were convinced after interviewing the victims that the two brothers had no involvement or knowledge. He declined to give details about the women's captivity.

According to a Cleveland police report obtained by the New York Times, officers who responded to a 911 call after Berry was freed checked the basement of Castro's house, and finding no one, headed upstairs, one officer yelling "Cleveland police!" Knight "ran and threw herself" into an officer's arms, followed by DeJesus, who "jumped into my arms," the officer wrote.

"All three women victims stated that Ariel chained them up in the basement, but eventually he let them free from the chains and let them live upstairs on the second floor," the report said.

Knight told officers that Castro had impregnated her multiple times. In each case, the report said, he starved her and then punched her repeatedly in the stomach until she miscarried.

As DeJesus, now 23, and Berry, 27, returned joyfully to their families' homes Wednesday, other details of their ordeal emerged.

A cousin of DeJesus, who had last been seen in 2004 at age 14 while walking from school, confirmed that the women were "kept in the basement like dogs."

The cousin, who asked not to be named to protect the family's privacy, said relatives had spoken by speaker phone with DeJesus before her return. Although she asked relatives not to inquire about her captivity, she described the way Castro had marked the anniversaries of the kidnappings by serving dinner and a cake.

Neighbors of the Castro family recalled visits by Castro accompanied by a young girl they suspect was Berry's daughter.

The police report said Berry had delivered her baby in the house into a plastic pool. The child was never told the names of the two other women in the house in case she uttered the names in public.

Nelson Martinez, 54, a cousin of Castro's, said Castro had visited him in Parma, Ohio, with a child he introduced as his granddaughter two or three years ago.

"She looked healthy and happy and looked as though she liked being with her 'granddaddy,' " Martinez said. "She had on clean clothes, like a normal little girl, and she seemed alert and talked."

Knight, the oldest of the women and the longest held, was the only one who had not been released to relatives yet. She remained hospitalized in the MetroHealth Medical Center.

Since the discovery of the women less than five miles from the neighborhood on Lorain Avenue where all three disappeared, some residents have angrily questioned whether the police had done all they could.

Before noon Wednesday, a motorcade escorted by police motorcycles pulled up to the home of Berry's sister, Beth Serrano, and several people hurried into the residence, with at least one person holding a child.

At the home of DeJesus, a crowd chanted "Gina! Gina!" as she arrived home and walked into the house with her face covered, while friends and relatives hugged in the front yard. Her aunt, Sandra Ruiz, made a brief statement outside the home, thanking the authorities and the community for their help.

Also on Wednesday, the city of Cleveland released segments of audiotape from the dispatch call that sent a police cruiser to Seymour Avenue in response to Berry's 911 call after being freed by neighbors who had heard her cries. The dispatcher said a woman had called saying that she was Amanda Berry and had been kidnapped for 10 years.

Soon after the cruiser arrived at the house where Berry was waiting, an officer was heard to say, "This might be for real."

A few minutes later, in another tape segment, the officers' voices took on urgency: "There might be others in the house," an officer said, sounding stressed and somewhat bewildered. Then, "Gina DeJesus might be in this house also."

In a later segment, an officer was heard to say, "We found them. We found them."

Ohio suspect helped neighbors look for the missing 05/08/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 11:41pm]
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