May 13, 2013

Cleveland suspect's past hinted of dark traits

Before taking three girls captive for a decade, Ariel Castro had a domineering attitude toward his wife and others.


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Sheriff’s department workers board up the home of kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro at 2207 Seymour Ave. in Cleveland after FBI personnel removed several items Friday.

Washington Post photo by Michael Williamson

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"So you don't think I'll ever get to see her again?" Miller asked.

"Yeah, in Heaven. On the other side," Browne responded.

Miller did not live to see Browne proved wrong. She died in 2006.

The saga of Castro and his alleged crimes is peppered with what-ifs. During the period that he is accused of holding the young women captive, authorities appeared at his home several times, but never discovered the abducted women.

In 2004, officers went to the house after Castro left a child alone on a school bus while he went to a Wendy's restaurant for lunch. A Cleveland police report quoted the girl as saying that when Castro arrived at the fast-food restaurant, he told her, "Lay down, (expletive)," and left her alone. After he returned, he "drove around awhile" before he returned her to her home-care provider. Officers made sure the girl was not sexually assaulted, and no charges were filed. (Castro lost his job in November after receiving a fourth disciplinary write-up; some were for relatively minor issues involving parking and an illegal U-turn.) In 2009, officers went to the home again, though police records do not indicate why, noting that they were there only briefly.

More recently, neighbors say police have been contacted at least twice in the past two years because of suspicious activity. The first time, neighbor Elsie Cintron says she called police after spotting a child's face in an attic window and hearing banging. Officers responded, Cintron says, but left when no one answered the knocks at Castro's door.

The next time, her son Israel Lugo says, a group of elderly women who were exercising in the area called police. According to Lugo, the women and his sister had all seen a naked woman on all fours with a dog leash around her neck in Castro's backyard. Cleveland police say they have no record of the calls.

Few can fathom how the women could have been held for so long without anyone knowing. One theory is that Castro's shabby home might have been in a kind of physical and virtual blind spot. The parking lot of a small business that has been downsizing lies behind his house. Three of four adjacent houses are vacant, says Brian Cummins, the City Council member who represents the area. There's an extremely high turnover of rental properties, he says. The area is one of the poorest in the city, Cummins says, and has struggled to recover from the long economic tumble exemplified by the downturn in Cleveland's steel industry.

Cummins says there are active neighborhood groups on many of the surrounding blocks. But Castro's house sits in a stretch of homes with no such organizations.

Mistrust and suspicion of police and government are common, many residents say. "If the community had more communication with the police, we would have found them sooner," said Juan Garcia, who lives down the block from DeJesus' parents. "We are afraid of the police. They frighten us."

Castro certainly gave the impression, at times, that he felt free to roam. Friends saw him taking Berry's daughter -- the child he fathered -- to play at the park named for Roberto Clemente. Moises Cintron, who lives across the street from the park, would often see Castro walking affectionately with the little girl, holding her hand. He never asked about the girl; he was afraid he'd be labeled a gossip. The child was never told the names of the other women kept captive in the house, so she would not slip and mention them in public, her mother later told police.


Amanda Berry thought Castro was testing her. It had to be that.

The door at the house on Seymour Avenue was left open when he left the house May 6, she later told police. Only a storm door separated her from the outside world.

She saw neighbors on their porches, sitting and chatting. She made what had to have been the most important decision of her young life. She started screaming, and a neighbor -- Charles Ramsey -- came to her rescue, smashing through the door to free her.

She called 911. "Help me, I'm Amanda Berry," said this voice that had been absent for so long. "I need police. I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years, and I'm here. I'm free now."


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