Questions mount over how Cleveland women’s captivity went undetected
As authorities prepared to file charges against three brothers suspected of keeping three young women captive for nearly a decade, police on Wednesday said they found chains and ropes used to bind the victims inside the Cleveland house where they were held.
Some details about the women’s ordeal began to emerge as euphoria over their rescue on Monday evening gave way to questions of how their imprisonment inside a house on a residential street in Cleveland went undetected for so long.
Several neighbors said they had called police to report suspicious activity at the house in a dilapidated neighborhood on Cleveland’s West Side, where Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Berry’s 6-year-old daughter escaped from their captors.
But police denied those calls from neighbors were made.
“We have no record of those calls coming in over the last 10 years,” Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show.
McGrath said he was confident police did not miss opportunities to find the missing women.
“Absolutely, there’s no question about it,” he said.
FBI agents were searching through the house where the women were believed held since vanishing between 2002 and 2004 from the same neighborhood, he said.
“We have confirmation that they were bound, and there (were) chains and ropes in the home,” he said.
The women had been allowed outside “very rarely” during their captivity, he said. “They were released out in the backyard once in a while.”
McGrath said the women were in good physical condition, “considering the circumstances.”
The three suspects were expected to be charged by the end of the day, McGrath said. He said the suspects were being interviewed and “Yes, they are talking.”
One suspect, Ariel Castro, 52, who was fired from his school bus driving job in November for “lack of judgment,” was arrested almost immediately after the women escaped on Monday. Brothers Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, were taken into custody a short time later.
The women’s imprisonment came to a dramatic end after a neighbor, drawn by the sound of screams, broke through the door to rescue Berry, whose 2003 disappearance as a teenager was widely publicized in the local media. He helped her place an emergency call to authorities.
Berry, now 27, was found with her 6-year-old daughter, conceived and born during her captivity, along with DeJesus, 23, who vanished aged 14 in 2004, and Knight, 32, who was 20 when she went missing in 2002.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Johnson said on Tuesday that child welfare officials had paid a visit to the house in January 2004 because Castro was reported to have left a child on a school bus while he stopped for lunch at a fast-food restaurant. But no one answered the door and the ensuing inquiry found no criminal intent, officials said.
Neighbors report suspicious incidents
Police have not said what role each man is suspected of playing in the case, but Berry named Ariel Castro in her 911 call as the man from whom she was trying to escape.
Questions have mounted about why the women’s captivity escaped notice.
“We didn’t search hard enough. She was right under our nose the whole time,” said Angel Arroyo, a church pastor who had handed out flyers about DeJesus in the neighborhood.
Aside from the school bus incident in 2004, city officials said a database search found no records of calls to the house or reports of anything amiss during the years in question.
“We have no indication that any of the neighbors, bystanders, witnesses or anyone else has ever called regarding any information, regarding activity that occurred at that house on Seymour Avenue,” the mayor said.
Israel Lugo, a neighbor, said he called police in November 2011 after his sister saw a girl at the house holding a baby and crying for help. He said police came and banged on the door several times but left when no one answered.
About eight months ago, Lugo said, his sister saw Ariel Castro park his school bus outside and take a large bag of fast food and several drinks inside.
“My sister said something’s wrong … That’s when my mom called the police,” he said. Lugo said police came and warned Castro not to park the bus in front of his house.
Another neighbor, Anthony Westry, said a little girl could often be seen peering from the attic window of the Castro house.
“She was always looking out the window,” he said. Castro would take her to the park to play very early in the morning, “not around the time you would take kids to play,” he said.
In the one acknowledged visit to the house by Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services Department officers in January 2004, more than a year after Knight disappeared and eight months after Berry went missing, no one answered the door, the mayor said.
Police said Castro was interviewed extensively during the investigation regarding the child left on the bus, and that no criminal wrongdoing was found. A witness had reported Castro telling the child to “lay down, bitch,” but child welfare officials concluded the complaint was unsubstantiated.
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.
On a Facebook page believed to be his, Castro said last month that he had just become a grandfather for a fifth time. Court records show he was arrested in 1993 on a domestic violence charge that was subsequently dismissed.