Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Man charged with kidnap, rape of women

Victims want privacy as they return home

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CLEVELAND -- A Cleveland man arrested after three women missing for a decade were found alive at his rundown home was charged Wednesday with kidnapping and raping them. Prosecutors brought no charges against his brothers, saying there was no evidence they had any part in the crime.

Ariel Castro, 52, was charged with four counts of kidnapping -- covering all three captives and the daughter born to one of them while she was held -- and three counts of rape against the three women.

The former school bus driver owns the peeling home where the women were rescued on Monday, after one of them broke through a screen door while Castro apparently was away.

At a news conference, authorities gave few details on the women's ordeal. But police said earlier in the day they were apparently bound with ropes and chains, and a city councilman briefed on the case, Brian Cummins, said they were subjected to prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and suffered miscarriages.

"We know that the victims have confirmed miscarriages, but with who, how many and what conditions we don't know," Cummins said. He added: "It sounds pretty gruesome."

Deputy police Chief Ed Tomba said the women could remember being outside only twice during their entire time in captivity. "We were told they left the house and went into the garage in disguise," he said.

And their first opportunity to escape didn't come until Monday, he said. The women were not kept in the same room, but knew they were not alone, he said.

He also said a paternity test on Castro was being done to establish who fathered the now six-year-old child of captive Amanda Berry.

Castro was in custody and couldn't be reached for comment. A brother-in-law has said the family was "shocked" after hearing about the women at the home.

Castro's brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, were also arrested after the women were rescued, but there was no evidence they had any part in the crime, Cleveland Prosecutor Victor Perez said.

Earlier in the day, Berry and former captive Gina DeJesus were welcomed home by jubilant crowds of loved ones and neighbours with balloons and banners Wednesday. Family members protectively took them inside, past hundreds of reporters and onlookers.

Neither woman spoke, and their families pleaded for patience and time alone.

"Give us time and privacy to heal," said Sandra Ruiz, DeJesus' aunt. Ruiz thanked police for rescuing the women and urged the public not to retaliate against the suspects or their families.

The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported in good condition at Metro Health Medical Center, which a day earlier had reported that all three victims had been released. There was no immediate explanation from the hospital.

The Associated Press does not usually identify people who may be victims of sexual assault, but the names of the women were widely circulated by their families, friends and law enforcement authorities for years during their disappearance.

In a development that astonished and exhilarated much of Cleveland, the three women were rescued after Berry, 27, broke through a screen door at the Castro house and told a 911 dispatcher: "Help me. I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."

Law enforcement officials left many questions unanswered, including how the women were taken captive.

Neighbours said Ariel Castro took part in the search for one of the missing women, helped pass out fliers, performed music at a fundraiser for her and attended a candlelight vigil, where he comforted her mother. As recently as 2005, Castro was accused of repeated acts of violence against his children's mother.

DeJesus, who disappeared in 2004 and is in her early 20s, arrived home in the afternoon Wednesday to chants of "Gina! Gina!" Wearing a bright yellow hooded sweatshirt, she was led through the crowd and into the house by a woman who put her arm around the young woman's shoulders and held her tight.

Her father pumped his fist after arriving home with his daughter, and he urged people across the country to watch over the children in their neighbourhoods -- including other people's kids.

"Too many kids these days come up missing, and we always ask this question: How come I didn't see what happened to that kid? Why? Because we chose not to," Felix DeJesus said.

Berry arrived at her sister's home, which was similarly festooned with dozens of colorful balloons and signs, one reading "We Never Lost Hope Mandy." Hundreds cheered wildly but weren't able to get a glimpse of Berry as she went in through the back.

A 2005 domestic-violence filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court accused Ariel Castro of twice breaking the nose of his children's mother, knocking out a tooth, dislocating each shoulder and threatening to kill her and her daughters three or four times in a year.

Police said Castro was also questioned about the 2007 disappearance of 14-year-old Ashley Summers, who vanished near the Castro house. But Tomba said there was no new information linking that case to Castro.

"We're hoping for our miracle, too," said Ashley's aunt, Debra Summers.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2013 A11

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