Cleveland missing women case: Ariel Castro charged with kidnap, rape

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Authorities filed rape and kidnapping charges Wednesday against a U.S. man after three women missing for about a decade were found alive at his home. The women were subjected to prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and suffered miscarriages, a city councilman briefed on the case said.

Ariel Castro, 52, was charged while his brothers, Pedro and Onil Castro, were held but faced no immediate charges. The Puerto Rican-born men were in custody and couldn't be reached for comment.

Councilman Brian Cummins said many details remained unclear, including the number of pregnancies and the conditions under which the miscarriages occurred. He said the women were kept in the basement for some time without having access to the rest of the house. Police said they were apparently bound with ropes and chains.

"It sounds pretty gruesome," Cummins said.

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The women's plight has riveted the U.S. since 27-year-old Amanda Berry kicked through a screen door at the house Monday, used a neighbor's telephone to call authorities and told a police dispatcher, "I'm free now." An officer showed up minutes later, and Berry ran out and threw her arms around the officer, a neighbor said.

Neighbors in the largely Puerto Rican neighborhood said Ariel Castro had taken part in the search for one of the missing women, performed music at a fundraiser for her and attended a candlelight vigil, where he comforted her mother.

Two of the women were welcomed home Wednesday by jubilant crowds. Neither Berry nor Gina DeJesus, about 23, spoke publicly, and their families pleaded for patience and time alone.

The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported in good condition at a local 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.

All three women apparently had been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s, police said.

Law enforcement officials left many questions unanswered, including how the women were taken captive, whether they were sexually abused and who fathered Berry's 6-year-old daughter.

Police spokesman Sammy Morris said ropes and chains were taken from the house.

Charges were expected by the end of the day against Ariel Castro, the owner of the house where the women were discovered, and brothers Onil, 50, and Pedro, 54.

Police Chief Michael McGrath told NBC he was "absolutely" sure police did everything they could to find the women over the years. He disputed claims by neighbors that officers had been called to the house before for suspicious circumstances.

"We have no record of those calls coming in over the past 10 years," McGrath said. On Tuesday, some neighbors said they had told police years ago about hearing pounding on the doors of the home and seeing a naked woman crawling in the yard.

McGrath said that the women were restrained and "released out in the back yard once in a while."

Neighbors and those who know Ariel Castro said he joined in the search for DeJesus nearly a decade ago and comforted her mother just a year ago at a vigil.

"When we went out to look for Gina, he helped pass out fliers," said Khalid Samad, a community activist who said Castro was friends with DeJesus' father.

As recently as 2005, Castro was accused of repeated acts of violence against his children's mother. A domestic-violence court filing at the time 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.

Neighbors say Castro played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands and gave neighborhood children rides on his motorcycle.

Juan Perez, who lives two doors down from the house, said Castro was always happy and respectful. "He gained trust with the kids and with the parents. You can only do that if you're nice," Perez said.

Another neighbor, Francisco Cruz, said he was with Castro the day investigators dug up a yard looking for the girls. Castro told Cruz, "They're not going to find anyone there," Cruz recalled.


Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Jesse Washington and Mike Householder and freelance reporter John Coyne in Cleveland; Mitch Stacy in Columbus; Dan Sewell in Cincinnati; John Seewer in Toledo; and news researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.



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