The three women held captive for about a decade at a run-down US house were apparently bound with ropes and chains, police said today, while charges were expected by the end of the day against the three brothers under arrest.
Neighbours in the largely Puerto Rican neighbourhood in Cleveland, Ohio, said one of the brothers, 52-year-old 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.
The women’s plight has riveted the US since 27-year-old Amanda Berry kicked through a screen door at the house on Monday, used a neighbour’s telephone to call authorities and told a police dispatcher: “I’m free now.” An officer showed up minutes later, and Ms Berry ran out and threw her arms around the officer, a neighbour said.
Ms Berry arrived at her sister’s home this morning to a cheering crowd. Another of the captives, Gina DeJesus, about 23, returned to her family’s home in the afternoon to chants of “Gina! Gina!” The third woman, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported as in good condition at a local hospital.
Neither Ms Berry nor Ms DeJesus spoke publicly, and their families pleaded for patience and time alone.
“Even the ones that doubted, I want to thank them the most,” Nancy Ruiz, Ms DeJesus’s mother, said. “They’re the ones that made me stronger, the ones that made me feel the most that my daughter was out there.”
All three women had apparently 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 Ms Berry’s six-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 neighbours 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,” Mr McGrath said. On Tuesday, some neighbours 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.
Mr McGrath said that the women were restrained and “released out in the back yard once in a while”.
Neighbours and those who know Ariel Castro said he joined in the search for Ms 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 Ms DeJesus’s father.
As recently as 2005, Ariel Castro was accused of repeated acts of violence against his children’s mother. A domestic violence court filing at the time accused 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.
Neighbours say Castro played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands and gave neighbourhood 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,” Mr Perez said.
Another neighbour, Francisco Cruz, said he was with Castro the day investigators dug up a yard looking for the girls. Castro told Mr Cruz: “They’re not going to find anyone there,” Mr Cruz recalled.