Cleveland kidnapping victims endured decade of isolation, rape, beatings
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Three young women newly freed from a decade-long kidnapping ordeal in Cleveland endured their captivity in the dungeon-like squalid confines of a house, where they were raped, starved, beaten and kept in chains by the man who abducted them, authorities said on Wednesday.
Their accused tormentor, Ariel Castro, 52, a veteran school bus driver fired from his job last fall, was formally charged on Wednesday with kidnapping and raping the women, who were rescued from his house on Monday evening shortly before his arrest.
His two brothers, initially arrested as suspects in the case, were not charged, and police said investigators had determined they had no knowledge of the abductions or captivity of the women.
The three victims, abducted separately from the surrounding neighborhood and completely cut off from the outside world during their captivity, were found alive together when neighbors were alerted by cries for help from one of the women, Amanda Berry.
She told police that her escape two days ago was her first chance to break free in the 10 years that she was imprisoned in the house, during which time she conceived and gave birth to a daughter, now 6, authorities said.
The little girl was rescued along with Berry, 27, who was a day shy of her 17th birthday when she disappeared in 2003, and the two other women - Gina DeJesus, 23, who went missing at age 14 in 2004, and Michelle Knight, 32, who was 20 years old when she vanished in 2002.
Chilling new details of their captivity emerged as two of the women were treated to jubilant celebrations with relatives - Berry and her daughter arriving at her sister's house and DeJesus at her mother's home in separate homecomings captured on national television.
Knight remained in a Cleveland hospital, where she was listed in good condition.
Berry's pregnancy with her daughter was not an isolated incident, according to Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins, who said he had read portions of a police report from the initial investigation and was briefed by numerous police department sources.
Cummins said one of the three women - he did not know who - had suffered at least five miscarriages, which Castro is accused of inducing by starving her for weeks and beating her in the abdomen.
Berry's baby was born in a plastic inflatable kiddy pool on Christmas Day, 2006, authorities said. A paternity test will be conducted to determine the girl's father.
All three women were held in the home's basement for long periods, restrained with ropes and chains and occasionally starved, according to Cummins. He added that the victims were kept apart from each other in the house until their captor at some point gained sufficient confidence in his control over them to allow them to mingle.
Moreover, the councilman said all three women were abducted by Castro when he offered them rides in a vehicle.
Cummins said much of their ordeal was recounted by the three women as soon as they were freed.
"En route to the hospital there was just a flood of information shared by these victims immediately," he said. "One can only imagine the mental distress and eruptions of joy and emotions."
Castro, owner of the modest, two-story house, had been thought by neighbors to live there alone. Berry has said she only managed to call for help when he briefly left the premises on Monday.
"The only opportunity, after interviewing the young ladies, to escape was the other day when Amanda escaped," Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said at the news conference. "They don't believe that they've been outside that home for the last 10 years respectively."
Authorities said the women recalled leaving the confines of the house just twice during their captivity, on both occasions to go into a garage on the small lot while disguised in wigs and hats.
Tomba said that during their separation in the house, the three women were kept in different rooms but were aware of the others' presence.
Berry and her daughter could be seen from an aerial television camera arriving in a convoy of vehicles at her sister's house and entering through a back door.
DeJesus was rushed into the home she had not seen in nine years, clenched in a tight embrace by her sister Mayra. DeJesus hid her face in a yellow hooded sweat-shirt but raised her hand in a thumbs-up sign to spectators chanting "Gina. Gina."
Her mother Nancy DeJesus came outside after a little while.
"I want to thank everybody that believed," she said. "Even the ones that doubted, I still want to thank them the most because they're the ones that made me stronger, the ones that made me feel the most that my daughter was out there."
Neither Berry, who was last seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant, nor DeJesus, who vanished while walking home from school, spoke publicly.
Castro faced arraignment on Thursday morning, the prosecutor said.
Investigators took some 200 pieces of evidence from his house, which Tomba said was "in quite a bit of disarray," but found no human remains on the site. Police were still searching a second house.
The three brothers were arrested on Monday evening within hours of the women's escape. However, there was no evidence Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, were involved, the prosecutor said.
However, the two brothers were slated to appear in court on Thursday on unrelated outstanding misdemeanor warrants.
"There is nothing that leads us to believe that they were involved or had any knowledge of this, and that comes from statements of our victims, their statements and the brothers' statements," Cleveland city prosecutor Victor Perez said, adding, "Ariel would have kept everybody at a distance."
Berry can be heard naming Ariel Castro as the man she was fleeing on the frantic emergency call she made to a 911 operator after a neighbor heard her scream and helped her break through a locked screen door.
Born in Puerto Rico, Ariel Castro played bass in Latin music bands in the area. Records show he was divorced more than a decade ago and his ex-wife had since died. He is known to have at least one adult daughter and son.
In 2005, Castro was named in a complaint of domestic violence in a custody dispute with his ex-wife that accused him of breaking her nose twice, knocking out her tooth, dislocating her shoulder twice and threatening to kill her and her daughters several times.
The complaint was eventually dismissed.