Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Was this a classic case of don't ask, don't tell?

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Neighbours and friends of Amanda Berry clap as she arrives at her sister's home in Cleveland  Wednesday.  Frustrated  neighbours lay blame on the authorities -- and each other -- for the ordeal that    saw Berry  separated from family and friends for a decade.

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Neighbours and friends of Amanda Berry clap as she arrives at her sister's home in Cleveland Wednesday. Frustrated neighbours lay blame on the authorities -- and each other -- for the ordeal that saw Berry separated from family and friends for a decade.

CLEVELAND -- The little girl wore pink tights. Just a sliver of a child, skinny and shy.

Moises Cintron watched Ariel Castro lift her out of a red pickup truck and take her hand. "A little affection," Cintron observed. They stopped at the fence, as always, so the girl could pet Cintron's mini-Dobermans, then walked to the park across the street.

Cintron always wondered about this six-year-old girl, whom he frequently saw Castro take to the playground. But Cintron didn't ask. He didn't want to be labelled a "bochinchoso" -- slang for a gossiper, a mark of shame in this neighbourhood of Puerto Rican transplants.

A day later, police would be arresting Castro and accusing him of holding three women captive for years. The rescue was triggered by Amanda Berry, who disappeared a decade ago on the day before her 17th birthday. She managed to get the attention of a neighbour who helped free her and call 911. On Wednesday afternoon, police escorted Berry to her sister's home, and she brought with her a daughter: a six-year-old who likes to pet mini-Dobermans.

Alongside the euphoria at their salvation is a sense of unease, a feeling Castro isn't the only one who might be at fault. Castro's brazenness may very well have served as a veil. But he also may have benefited from a kind of code of silence or, at a minimum, an unwillingness to point fingers, some suspect.

"I believe a lot of people knew what was going on and now they're staying quiet because they're hiding, because if the police find out they knew something, the police will come for them," said Tomas Rodriguez, 79, a retiree in Puerto Rico.

That's hard for some to accept. "I don't know about that," said Carmelo Negron, a retired construction worker. "How could someone know about something like this and not say something?"

Castro, 52, was charged Wednesday with four counts of kidnapping -- one for each of the captive women and one for the child born while they were being held -- and three counts of rape. In a news conference, police said Castro's two brothers -- Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50 -- had nothing to do with the abductions and rapes, although they both have outstanding warrants for separate misdemeanour cases and will go before a judge on those matters today.

On Castro's block, frustrated neighbours turned their rage at the authorities. Neighbours who live three doors down from Castro say police have been contacted at least twice to report disturbing activity at the home where the women were held. Neighbour Israel Lugo said he called police two years ago after his mother, Elsie Cintron, a distant relation of Moises, saw a child's forlorn face in an attic window of Castro's house and heard banging noises. Elsie Cintron says officers knocked on the door of Castro's home but left when no one answered.

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 backyard 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.

Those who haven't aimed their disgust at the police have sneered at segments of the community. Charlene Milam, a neighbour of one of the captive women, scoffed at statements by Castro's neighbours 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 neighbours' 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 neighbourhood, two doors away from the family of Gina DeJesus, who went missing in 2004 and was rescued in the same house as Berry. Milam held up a card that she had kept in her van all these years with a police sketch of the suspect, a drawing she said was vaguely reminiscent of Castro. "I believe the police did the best they could," Milam said.

Still, Castro seemed to go about his life as if he feared little. He didn't shrink from society; he stepped out front. He played bass guitar in salsa bands and tore down the street on a loud motorcycle. Maybe, Moises Cintron said, it was just that no one wanted to know what was really going on with Castro.

"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."

 

-- Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2013 A10

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