May 9, 2013

Did Cleveland police and neighbors fail to help captives?

Some say police came but never went in the house; others say people kept quiet about their suspicions.

By MANUEL ROIG-FRANZIA/The Washington Post

CLEVELAND - The little girl wore pink tights. Just a sliver of a child, skinny and shy.

click image to enlarge

This is the screened front door of a house in Cleveland where Amanda Berry seized a chance to escape after being kidnapped and held captive for 10 years.

The Associated Press

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'SOMETHING MUST HAVE CLICKED AND SHE SAW AN OPPORTUNITY'

CLEVELAND - A man suspected of keeping three women captive inside his decrepit house for a decade was charged Wednesday with kidnapping and rape, accused of holding them under conditions so oppressive they were allowed outside for only a few moments in disguise and never saw a chance to escape until this week.

Investigators said the women apparently were bound with ropes and chains, and a city councilman briefed on the case said they were subjected to prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and suffered miscarriages.

Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, against all three women.

The women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, now in their 20s and 30s, vanished separately between 2002 and 2004. They were 14, 16 and 20 years old.

Castro owns the run-down home where the women were rescued on Monday after one of them, Amanda Berry, broke through a screen door to freedom while he was away.

Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said it was the only chance they ever had to escape.

"Something must have clicked, and she saw an opportunity and she took that opportunity," he said.

-- The Associated Press

 

Moises Cintron watched Ariel Castro lift her out of a red pickup truck and take her hand. "A little affection," Cintron observed. They stopped at the fence, as always, so the girl could pet Cintron's mini Dobermans, then walked to the park across the street.

Cintron always wondered about this 6-year-old girl, whom he frequently saw Castro take to the playground. But Cintron didn't ask. He didn't want to be labeled a "bochinchoso" -- slang for a gossiper, a mark of shame in this neighborhood of Puerto Rican transplants.

A day later, police would be arresting Castro and accusing him of holding three women captive for years. The rescue was triggered by Amanda Berry, who disappeared a decade ago on the day before her 17th birthday. She managed to get the attention of a neighbor who helped free her and call 911. On Wednesday afternoon, police escorted Berry to her sister's home, and she brought with her a daughter: a 6-year-old who likes to pet mini Dobermans.

Alongside the euphoria at their salvation is a sense of unease, a feeling that Castro isn't the only one who might be at fault. Castro's brazenness may very well have served as a veil. But he also may have benefited from a kind of code of silence or, at a minimum, an unwillingness to point fingers, some suspect.

"I believe a lot of people knew what was going on and now they're staying quiet because they're hiding, because if the police find out they knew something, the police will come for them," said Tomas Rodriguez, 79, a retiree in Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.

That's hard for some to accept. "I don't know about that," said Carmelo Negron, a retired construction worker. "How could someone know about something like this and not say something?"

Castro, 52, was charged Wednesday with four counts of kidnapping -- one for each of the captive women and one for the child born while they were being held -- and three counts of rape. In a news conference, police said Castro's two brothers -- Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50 -- had nothing to do with the abductions and rapes, although they both have outstanding warrants for separate misdemeanor cases and will go before a judge on those matters Thursday.

Police say they discovered ropes and chains in the home and that the women were bound. A paternity test is being conducted to determine the father of Berry's child. "We know that the victims have confirmed miscarriages, but with who, how many and what conditions, we don't know," Cleveland council member Brian Cummins, who was briefed on the case, according to the Associated Press.

On Castro's block, frustrated neighbors turned their rage at the authorities. Neighbors who live three doors down from Castro say that police have been contacted at least twice to report disturbing activity at the home where the women were held. Neighbor Israel Lugo said he called police two years ago after his mother, Elsie Cintron, a distant relation of Moises, saw a child's forlorn face in an attic window of Castro's house and heard banging noises. Elsie Cintron says officers knocked on the door of Castro's home but left when no one answered.

(Continued on page 2)

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