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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

 

Then last year, she said, her daughter, Nina Samoylicz, burst into the house to tell the family about a disturbing sight: She'd seen a naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck in the back yard of Castro's home.

"Ariel was kicking her," Lugo recalled Samoylicz saying. This time they didn't call police, Lugo said -- it was so shocking that they almost didn't believe her. But, not long after, Lugo spoke with several elderly women who said they had noticed the same thing, he said. The women called the police, he said, but officers never came. "I was furious; it's pathetic," Lugo said.

Cleveland officials have pushed back against those accounts, saying they have no records of the calls. "We have gone through our call system a number of times to make sure," said Maureen Harper, a city spokeswoman.

Ed Tomba, deputy chief of the Cleveland police, told reporters that before they were rescued Monday, the captive women had been out of the house briefly only twice in the past decade and had never left the property.

Those who haven't aimed their disgust at the police have sneered at segments of the community. Charlene Milam, a neighbor of one of the captive women, scoffed at statements by Castro's neighbors who say the police weren't responsive. "You could have done something," Milam said. "If they don't come, you make another call."

And she was particularly peeved about the neighbors' response to spotting a naked woman in Castro's yard. "Buddy, if I see somebody naked, I'm going to go over and investigate myself," she said.

Milam lives in a nearby neighborhood, two doors away from the family of Gina DeJesus, who went missing in 2004 and was rescued in the same house as Berry.

On Wednesday, her family's house was festooned with balloons and banners welcoming her home. Milam held up a card that she had kept in her van all these years with a police sketch of the suspect, a drawing that she said was vaguely reminiscent of Castro.

"I believe the police did the best they could," Milam said.

The neighborhood where Castro seemed to exist with such ease lies on Cleveland's working-class west side.

The area has attracted Puerto Rican migrants for decades. Many, including Castro's father and uncles, came from the small coffee-growing town of Yauco in southwestern Puerto Rico. Maybe, Moises Cintron said, it was just that no one wanted to know what was really going on with Castro.

They might have preferred to see him simply as the man in the park with the little girl.

"That helped him," Cintron said.

"It helped him to stay doing what he was doing for so long." No questions were asked. Cintron held his right index finger to his lips and said: "Shhh."'

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