Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Suspect joined vigil for missing girl

Gave local kids rides on motorbike

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CLEVELAND -- In the tight-knit neighbourhood near downtown, where many conversations are spoken in Spanish, it seems most everyone knew Ariel Castro.

He played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands. He parked his school bus on the street. He gave neighbourhood children rides on his motorcycle.

And when they gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember two girls who vanished years ago, Castro was there too, comforting the mother of one of the missing, a neighbour said.

Neighbours and friends were stunned by the arrest of Castro and his two brothers after a 911 call led police to his house, where authorities say three women missing for about a decade were held captive.

Castro and his brothers, ages 50 to 54, were in custody Tuesday but have not been formally charged.

Ariel Castro was friends with the father of Gina DeJesus, one of the missing women, and helped search for her after she disappeared, said Khalid Samad, a friend of the family. He also performed music at a fundraiser held in her honour, Samad said.

"When we went out to look for Gina, he helped pass out fliers," said Samad, a community activist who was at the hospital with DeJesus and her family on Monday night. "You know, he was friends with the family."

Tito DeJesus, one of Gina's uncles, said he played in a few bands with Castro over the last 20 years. He remembered visiting Castro's house after his niece disappeared, but he never noticed anything out of ordinary, saying it was very sparse in furniture and filled with musical instruments.

"That's pretty much what it looked like," DeJesus said. "I had no clue, no clue whatsoever that this happened."

Juan Perez, who lives two doors down from the house, has known Castro for decades.

"He was always happy, nice, respectful," Perez said. "He gained trust with the kids and with the parents."

He said Castro had an ATV and a motorcycle and would take children on rides. Nothing seemed wrong with it then, he said, adding he now thinks that was one way Castro tried to get close to the children. He also worked until recently as a school bus driver.

Castro's personnel file with the Cleveland public school district, obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information request, shows he was hired in 1990 as a bus driver after saying on his application he liked working with children.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2013 A4

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