A US man has appeared in court on charges of rape and kidnapping days after three women missing for about a decade were found alive at his home.
Ariel Castro looked down at the ground while lawyers in Cleveland, Ohio, spoke to the judge. Bond was set at two million dollars on each case.
Police say they have talked to both Castro, who is a former school bus driver, and the three women at length in building their case.
While they’re not revealing many details, police do say the women were kept inside Castro’s house for all but a few brief minutes over the last 10 years.
The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004 and were found on Monday after one of them screamed for help to escape and contacted police.
Castro bit his collar and signed documents with his handcuffed hands. He didn't speak.
The women found alive after a decade in captivity endured lonely, dark lives inside a dingy home where they were raped and allowed outside only a handful of times in disguises while walking to a garage steps away, investigators say.The 52-year-old former school bus driver has emerged as the lone suspect.
While many questions remain about how Castro maintained such tight control over the women for so many years before one of them made a daring escape on Monday, the horrors they suffered are beginning to come to light.
Police say the women were apparently bound by ropes and chains at times and were kept in different rooms. They suffered prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and had miscarriages, according to a city official briefed on the case.
Castro has been charged with four counts of kidnapping – covering the captives and the daughter born to one of them – and three counts of rape, against all three women.
The women and Castro have given lengthy statements to police that have helped build their case, said Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba. None of the women, though, gave them any indication that Castro’s two older brothers, who have been in custody since Monday, were involved. Prosecutors brought no charges against the brothers, citing a lack of evidence.“Ariel kept everyone at a distance,” Mr Tomba said.
One thing that remains a mystery, he said, is how the women were kept in the house so long. “As far as the circumstances inside the home and the control he may have had over those girls ... I think that’s going to take us a long time to figure that out,” he said.
The women, now in their 20s and 30s, vanished separately between 2002 and 2004. At the time, they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
At a news conference, authorities would not discuss the circumstances of their kidnapping and captivity.City Councilman Brian Cummins earlier said: “We know that the victims have confirmed miscarriages, but with who, how many and what conditions we don’t know. It sounds pretty gruesome.”.
They never saw a chance to escape over the last 10 years until this week when Amanda Berry broke through a door and ran to freedom, alerting police who rescued the other two women while Castro was away from the house.
In newly released police audio tapes, an emergency dispatcher notifies officers on Monday that she’s just spoken to a woman who “says her name is Amanda Berry and that she had been kidnapped 10 years ago.” An officer on the recorded call says, “This might be for real.”
After police arrive at the house, women can be heard crying in the background. Then an officer tells the dispatcher: “We found ’em. We found ’em.”
Mr Tomba said of Berry, “Something must have clicked and she saw an opportunity and she took that opportunity.”He 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.
Also in the house was Berry’s six-year-old daughter. A paternity test on Castro was being done to establish whether he fathered the child.
While prosecutors announced charges against Castro, federal agents searched a vacant house near where the women had been held. Officials would only say their search was an attempt to get evidence in the case against Castro, but they refused to say what they found or what led them there.Few people in Cleveland, outside the families of the women, thought there was any chance they were still alive.Berry, 27, and Gina DeJesus, who is in her early 20s, were welcomed home yesterday by jubilant crowds of loved ones and neighbours with balloons and banners. Family members hustled them inside, past hundreds of reporters and onlookers.Neither woman spoke.
“This is the best Mother’s Day I could ever have,” said Nancy Ruiz, Gina’s mother. She said she hugged her daughter and didn’t want to let go. Mrs Ruiz said she spent time with all three women after they were rescued. “There’s no word to describe the beauty of just seeing them,” she said.
DeJesus’ father pumped his fist after arriving home with his daughter, and 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,” he said.
The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported in good condition at Metro Health Medical Centre, which a day earlier had reported that all three victims had been released. There was no immediate explanation from the hospital.Castro was accused 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, according to a 2005 domestic-violence filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court.
The filing for a protective order by Grimilda Figueroa also said that Castro frequently abducted her daughters and kept them from her. Figueroa died in April 2012 after a battle with cancer.
Figueroa’s father, Ismail Figueroa, said Castro would regularly lock his daughter inside a second-floor apartment in the house where they lived when they were first together.
Later, when they moved a few blocks to the house Castro purchased – the house from which, years later, the women would escape – he kept a close eye on her and refused to let people come inside to visit her or even let her pick up their children from school, said Angel Villanueva, who is married to Grimilda Figueroa’s sister.
Grimilda was “not allowed to go nowhere,” said Villanueva. No matter where she wanted to go, “it had to be with him”