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  • Tony Dejak / Associated Press

    Felix DeJesus celebrates as his daughter Gina DeJesus, 23, returns home Wednesday after nine years as one of three women allegedly held captive by Ariel Castro in his Cleveland house.

  • Tony Dejak / Associated Press

    Gina DeJesus gives a thumbs-up as relatives escort her home Wednesday after nine years as a captive in a Cleveland home. Amanda Berry, one of the other two captives, also returned to her family. Michelle Knight remained hospitalized.

Cops begin detailing kidnapping ordeal

Published: Thursday, May. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 9, 2013 - 7:57 am

CLEVELAND – About the time that neighbors kicked in a front door to free three women abducted and long imprisoned, the man later charged with their kidnapping was idling away a spring afternoon at his mother's home.

The man, Ariel Castro, 52, had crossed the street to borrow a lawn mower Monday afternoon from a neighbor to cut his mother's postage-stamp lawn, then left with a brother to spend the afternoon drinking, neighbors said.

It was typical of the outwardly mundane life Castro led, which apparently included outings with a daughter he is believed to have fathered with one of the captives.

Meanwhile, inside his house on Seymour Avenue, the three women, who last celebrated birthdays with their families about a decade ago, saw year after year perversely marked by Castro's serving of a cake on each woman's "abduction day," according to one victim's cousin.

On Wednesday, as new details of the women's horrific ordeal emerged, Castro was charged with the rape and kidnapping of Amanda Berry, held 10 years; Gina DeJesus, held nine years; and Michelle Knight, held 11 years. He was also charged with kidnapping the 6-year-old daughter to whom Berry gave birth, and authorities said he would undergo a paternity test.

In their years as prisoners, the women never left the house except for two brief visits to the adjacent garage, police said.

No charges were brought against Castro's two brothers who were arrested with him: Onil Castro, 50, and Pedro Castro, 54.

Ed Tomba, deputy chief of the Cleveland police, said investigators were convinced after interviewing the victims that the two brothers had no involvement or knowledge.

According to a Cleveland police report, officers who responded to a 911 call after Berry was freed checked the basement of Castro's house, and finding no one, headed upstairs, one officer yelling, "Cleveland police!" Knight "ran and threw herself" into an officer's arms, followed by DeJesus, who "jumped into my arms," the officer wrote.

"All three women victims stated that Ariel chained them up in the basement, but eventually he let them free from the chains and let them live upstairs on the second floor," the report said.

Knight told officers that Castro had impregnated her multiple times. In each case, the report said, he starved her and then punched her repeatedly in the stomach until she miscarried.

As DeJesus, now 23, and Berry, 27, returned joyfully to their families' homes Wednesday, other details of their ordeal emerged.

A cousin of DeJesus, who had last been seen in 2004 at age 14 while walking from school, confirmed that the women were "kept in the basement like dogs."

The cousin, who asked not to be named to protect the family's privacy, said relatives had spoken by speakerphone with DeJesus before her return. Although she asked relatives not to inquire about her captivity, she described the way Castro had marked the anniversaries of the kidnappings by serving dinner and a cake.

"He would celebrate their abduction day as their new birthday," the cousin said.

Neighbors of the Castro family – which owns at least two other homes in the Tremont district of Cleveland – recalled visits by Castro accompanied by a young girl they suspected was Berry's daughter.

The police report said that Berry had delivered her baby in the house into a plastic pool and that Knight acted as the midwife. According to the report, Knight told the police that Castro had warned that he would kill her if the baby died. Knight stated that the baby had stopped breathing at one point "but she breathed into her mouth and 'breathed for her' to keep her alive."

The child was never told the names of the two other women in the house in case she uttered the names in public.

Nelson Martinez, 54, a cousin of Castro's, said Castro had visited him in Parma, Ohio, with a child he introduced as his granddaughter two or three years ago.

"She looked healthy and happy and looked as though she liked being with her 'granddaddy,' " Martinez said. "She had on clean clothes, like a normal little girl, and she seemed alert and talked."

Knight, 32, the oldest of the women and the longest held, was the only one who had not been released to relatives yet. She remained hospitalized Wednesday in the MetroHealth Medical Center.

Since the discovery of the women less than five miles from the neighborhood where all three disappeared, some residents have angrily questioned whether the police had done all they could.

On Wednesday the city released portions of the original missing persons reports that showed that dozens of officers were involved in the investigations of the disappearances of Berry and DeJesus. Authorities also rebutted accounts that have circulated this week of sightings of the women at Castro's home, denying that police had received calls.

Castro has been unemployed since November after two decades as a Cleveland school bus driver. He was fired after a third disciplinary problem, according to school district reports. The house he owns, where the women were discovered, is in foreclosure.

Other records show that he fought violently with a former wife, Grimilda Figueroa, who had full custody of their children. According to a 2005 complaint she filed in domestic relations court, Figueroa suffered a broken nose, broken ribs and two dislocated shoulders. Her lawyer, Robert Ferreri, said in the filing that Castro "frequently abducts daughters and keeps them from their mother." Figueroa died last year.

Ariel Castro's daughter Emily has run into trouble with the law, according to the Washington Post. The Post reported that she was sentenced in 2008 to 25 years in prison for trying to kill her 11-month-old daughter by slashing the girl's throat four times, according to court records.

In an appeal filed shortly after her conviction, Emily Castro's attorney said his client was not competent to stand trial because she has "mental health issues, including manic depression," the Post reported.

Martinez recalled a visit to Castro's home before the three women's disappearance and called him a hoarder.

"There was junk everywhere," he said. "It was nasty and dirty.

"What was very weird was that he had built himself a shack that looked like a cardboard tent with blankets in the living room," Martinez added. Castro slept in the enclosure in the living room to save money on heat, he said.

Before noon Wednesday, a motorcade escorted by police motorcycles pulled up to the home of Berry's sister, Beth Serrano, and several people hurried into the residence, with at least one person holding a child.

At the home of DeJesus, a crowd chanted "Gina! Gina!" as she arrived home and walked into the house with her face covered, while friends and relatives hugged in the front yard. Her aunt, Sandra Ruiz, made a brief statement outside the home, thanking the authorities and the community for their help.

Also on Wednesday, the city of Cleveland released segments of audiotape from the dispatch call that sent a police cruiser to Seymour Avenue in response to Berry's 911 call after being freed by neighbors who had heard her cries. The dispatcher said a woman had called saying that she was Amanda Berry and had been kidnapped for 10 years.

Soon after the cruiser arrived at the house where Berry was waiting, an officer was heard to say, "This might be for real."

A few minutes later, in another tape segment, the officers' voices took on urgency: "There might be others in the house," an officer said, sounding stressed and somewhat bewildered.

Then, "Gina DeJesus might be in this house also."

In a later segment, an officer was heard to say, "We found them. We found them."

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