CLEVELAND — The man charged with kidnapping and raping three young women imprisoned in his Cleveland home for years is a “big bully” who apparently used chains and ropes to restrain his victims and let them outside just two times, to go into the garage, police said as more details emerged about the accused’s violent past.
Ariel Castro, 52, was charged Wednesday with three counts of rape and four of kidnapping. The kidnapping counts relate to the abductions of Michelle Knight in 2002, Amanda Berry in 2003, Gina DeJesus in 2004, and to the daughter born to a captive Berry six years ago. The rape counts refer to the women, who escaped Monday evening.The two brothers arrested with him this week — Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50 — were not charged in the case and appear to have known nothing about their sibling’s secret life, Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said.
Tomba said Castro had waived his right against self-incrimination and had provided a detailed statement. Asked at a news conference about Pedro and Onil Castro, Tomba said there was “absolutely” no indication they knew what was going on inside Ariel’s rundown house with the small American flag flying outside.
“There is nothing that leads us to believe they were involved or they had any knowledge of this, and that comes from statements of our victims, and their statements and their brother’s statements. Ariel kept everybody at a distance,” he said.
Later, Tomba described Ariel Castro as “the big bully” of his brothers. “You didn’t get into his house,” he added. “This guy, he ran the show. He … acted alone.” Tomba said DNA had been taken from Castro to determine if he was the father of Berry’s young daughter.
The two brothers were to appear in court Thursday in connection with some outstanding misdemeanor warrants but could go free immediately afterward.
Officials refused to comment on some local media accounts, including that there were multiple pregnancies among the women during their captivity, that Berry gave birth in a plastic baby pool, and that Knight helped to deliver the infant as Castro threatened to kill her if the child died.
Cleveland’s WKYC news quoted a police report as saying that the newborn stopped breathing, so Knight placed her mouth over the baby’s and “breathed for her.” Knight also told police that she became pregnant but was starved and repeatedly punched in the stomach until she miscarried, the report said.
Neither the women nor Berry’s child was allowed to see a doctor, and officials said the women only recalled being let out of the house twice in all the years they were held. They never were permitted off of the property, and Tomba said hats and wigs found in the basement were used by the women when they went into the garage. As the horrors endured since their abductions became clearer, the women — two of them just teenagers when they vanished — began trying to adjust to their new lives. It wasn’t easy, as well-wishers and media thronged their family’s homes, which are within a few miles of where they were abducted and where they were held captive.
Chants of “Gina! Gina!” rose as DeJesus, 14 when she vanished, emerged from an SUV and rushed into her parents’ home, her face obscured by a hooded sweatshirt. DeJesus flashed a thumbs-up sign. DeJesus did not speak, but her parents, Nancy and Felix, came outside to say that they had never stopped believing she would come home.
“I knew my daughter was out there alive. I knew she needed me, and I never gave up,” her father told the jubilant crowd. Berry, 16 when she vanished and the woman who led the rush out of Castro’s home on Monday, also did not speak as she was ushered into the home of her sister, Beth Serrano. Yellow ribbons were tied to trees and the front of the house was festooned with balloons, stuffed animals and a huge banner proclaiming: “WELCOME HOME AMANDA.”
“I just want to say we are so happy to have Amanda and her daughter home,” Serrano told the crowd outside. Knight, 20 when she vanished, was discharged Friday from the hospital where she had been cared for after her ordeal.
The image that neighbors had of Ariel Castro, as a friendly man who enjoyed playing bass guitar in a local band, was in sharp contrast to the portrait that emerged from court documents and from interviews. They painted a picture of an abusive and vindictive man who for years beat up the mother of his children and threatened to kill her, and who frightened her out of testifying about his abuse to a grand jury.
Grimilda Figueroa, who had three daughters and one son with Castro between 1981 and 1990, said in various court documents that in the years they were together, he twice broke her nose and some ribs, knocked out one of her teeth, and dislocated each of her shoulders.
According to court records and interviews, a grand jury in 1994 was to hear testimony from Figueroa, but she backed out.
In a sworn affidavit later, Figueroa said Castro offered her money and a car to keep quiet. “He also told me, ‘You know what will happen to you if you do testify,’ ” Figueroa said in the affidavit. “I knew that he would find me and assault me again. … I was unable to offer my testimony before the grand jury. I did not tell anyone about the threats.”
The case was dropped. Figueroa said Castro attacked her again as she recovered from a surgery and kicked her in the head, at which point she moved out of their Cleveland house.
About that time, in 1995, she met Fernando Colon, a security guard at a hospital. Colon, in a telephone interview, said Figueroa had injuries from Castro’s abuse.
“When I saw her with the injuries and coming to the appointment … I offered her my help,” he said. Colon and Figueroa eventually moved in together and had a son in 1998. They never married, but Colon said Castro always resented him.
“He was kind of upset about it, because I took the only thing he could control and abuse,” said Colon. Figueroa died in 2012, and her lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The startling triple escape this week raised hopes among the families of other missing Cleveland women that Castro could help solve those cases. Among the missing is Ashley Summers, who was 14 when she disappeared in 2007 in the same area as the other abductions.
Asked about Summers, Tomba said: “As of right now, we don’t anticipate any other victims where he is the suspect.”