May 8, 2013

Cleveland kidnapping case: A joyous reunion, but questions, too

Three women are freed after years in captivity after a neighbor helps one of them escape.

The Washington Post

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Amanda Berry, right, hugs her sister, Beth Serrano, after being reunited in a hospital Monday. Berry and two other women were found after being missing for about a decade.

The Associated Press

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This combination photo shows Onil Castro, left, Ariel Castro and Pedro Castro, who were in custody Tuesday.

The Associated Press

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CLEVELAND - In the tight-knit neighborhood near downtown where many conversations are spoken in Spanish, it seems most everyone knew Ariel Castro.

He played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands. He parked his school bus on the street. He gave neighborhood children rides on his motorcycle.

And when they gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember two girls who vanished years ago, Castro was there, too, comforting the mother of one of the missing, a neighbor said.

Neighbors and friends were stunned by the arrest of Castro and his two brothers after a 911 call led police to his house, where authorities say three women missing for about a decade were held captive.

Castro and his brothers, ages 50 to 54, were in custody Tuesday but had not been formally charged.

Castro was friends with the father of Gina DeJesus, one of the missing women, and helped search for her after she disappeared, said Khalid Samad, a friend of the family. He also performed music at a fundraiser held in her honor, Samad said.

"When we went out to look for Gina, he helped pass out fliers," said Samad, a community activist who was at the hospital with DeJesus and her family Monday night.

Tito DeJesus, one of Gina's uncles, said he played in a few bands with Castro over the past 20 years. He remembered visiting Castro's house after his niece disappeared, but he never noticed anything out of ordinary, saying it was very sparsely furnished and filled with musical instruments.

"That's pretty much what it looked like," DeJesus said. "I had no clue, no clue whatsoever that this happened."

The women and girls were reunited with their family members and assessed at Metro Health Medical Center, officials said. Sandra Ruiz, who identified herself as the aunt of Gina DeJesus, told reporters that all three rescued women were in remarkably good spirits. "It's just unbelievable . . . these women are just so strong," Ruiz said.

In 2004, Ariel Castro came to police attention when he apparently left a child unattended on his school bus, but authorities who investigated the incident determined that it was accidental, law enforcement authorities said.

Police said they will proceed cautiously when interviewing the three women and will use a specially trained FBI team to gather evidence while, as much as possible, sparing the women the trauma of reliving their captivity.

"The real hero here is Amanda. She's the one who got this rolling," Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said. "We're just following her lead."

Authorities declined to answer questions about how the women may have been treated while being held captive. They said there is no evidence the kidnappings extended beyond the Cleveland metropolitan area and asked anyone who may have information about the case to call the Cleveland FBI office at 216-522-1400.


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