Ropes, chains found in home where women held captive

Posted at 12:49 PM, May 08, 2013

By Michael Pearson and Ed Payne


CLEVELAND (CNN) — Ropes and chains have been found inside the Cleveland home where police say three women spent close to a decade in captivity, city officials said Wednesday.

While Public Safety Director Martin Flask said investigators haven’t confirmed how the ropes and chains were used, police Chief Michael McGrath told NBC’s “Today” that they were used to restrain the missing women.

“We have confirmation that they were bound,” he told NBC.

Authorities expect to file charges Wednesday against the homeowner and his two brothers, a police spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Police have until Wednesday evening to file charges against Ariel Castro, 52, who lived in the home where the women were found, and his brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, police Detective Jennifer Ciaccia said Tuesday.

Investigators began questioning the brothers Tuesday night, FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson said Wednesday.

They were arrested Monday night after one of the women, 27-year-old Amanda Berry, staged a daring escape with the aid of neighbors.

In addition to Berry and a 6-year-old daughter apparently born to her during her captivity, police say Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32, also were freed.

The three women disappeared from the same Cleveland street — Lorain Avenue — between 2002 and 2004. Police say they were held just three miles from where they disappeared.

They escaped after Berry broke out the bottom of a screen door and called for help Monday evening. Neighbors Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero say they responded to her cries and helped kick in the door to help her escape.

“I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years,” Berry said in a frantic 911 call. “And I’m here. I’m free now.”

Since they escaped, the women have been reuniting with family members they had not seen in nearly 10 years.

Berry arrived at her sister’s home Wednesday. She had been expected to make a statement, according to police, but her sister appeared instead. Beth Serrano implored the huge crowd of reporters and photographers to give the family privacy to recover from their long ordeal.

In a telephone call recorded Tuesday, by CNN affiliate WJHL, Berry sounded upbeat — telling her grandmother Fern Gentry that she felt “fine” and that the 6-year-old girl also rescued Monday from the Cleveland home is indeed her own.

“I love you honey, thank God,” Berry’s tearful grandmother Fern Gentry could be heard telling her granddaughter. “I’ve thought about you all this time. I never forgot about you.”

At the home of Gina DeJesus, balloons dotted the front yard.

Her 32-year-old sister, Mayra DeJesus, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow Tuesday that Gina is in “good spirits” despite her ordeal.

Knight remained at Metro Health Hospital Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.

Spokeswoman Tina Shaerban-Arundel declined to say what Knight was being treated for, but said she was in good condition.

The hospital had said Tuesday that all three women had been sent home after evaluations. Shaerban-Arundel said the hospital stood by that statement, but she did not elaborate.

News of her discovery came as a shock to brother Freddie Knight, who didn’t know she was missing until he saw the story on TV. He said the family thought Knight might be with the brother of a brother-in-law, but had no phone number to contact him.

“I was freaking happy as hell, because I didn’t know my sister was kidnapped,” he said. “My mom never tells me anything.”

Knight said their mom, who now lives in Naples, Florida, kicked him out of the house when he was 14 and they remain estranged.

CNN not could immediately confirm the details of Knight’s account.

Knight said he met with his sister at the hospital and gave her a hug, saying the ordeal had left her traumatized.

“I hugged her because she wanted a hug,” he said. “My sister is going to move on, forget the past … , leave it behind, start anew.”

Her mother, Barbara Knight, told NBC Wednesday that she had not yet spoken to her daughter.

“She’s probably angry at the world because she thought she would never be found but thank God that somebody did,” she told NBC.

When asked what she would say to her daughter, she said, “I love you and I missed you all this time.”

The investigation

FBI evidence technicians spent a second day at the home Tuesday. An exhaustive search of the grounds turned up no evidence of human remains, Flask said.

While charges are likely Wednesday, investigators still have much work ahead of them, said Ciaccia.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday. “This investigation will take a very long time.”

McGrath told NBC’s “Today” Wednesday that investigators believed the women were allowed out of the house only rarely. He didn’t know how often they were bound.

“We’ll have a better feel for that question once the interviews with the victims (are) completed later today,” he told NBC.

Some neighbors of Ariel Castro second-guessed themselves Tuesday, questioning why they hadn’t noticed signs earlier and if they could have prevented the horrors.

Neighbor Daniel Marti, for one, wonders why he didn’t question why Castro frequently brought bags of McDonald’s food into the house, or how Castro steered conversation away from his house.

“Now that I think of it, he didn’t want nobody back there,” said Marti, who said he has known Ariel Castro since junior high school and lived near him for some 22 years.

“This is a heartbreaking moment for us, because I’m always out there (and) I’ve heard nothing,” he said.

Relatives of the suspects were also troubled by the developments.

Maria Castro Montes, a cousin of the suspects, told CNN Wednesday if other family members had any inkling or suspicion of wrongdoing, they would have spoken up.

New details on homeowner

According to court documents, Ariel Castro’s former common-law wife accused him of repeatedly abusing her, including breaking her nose twice, breaking two ribs, dislocating her shoulder twice and knocking out a tooth.

Grimilda Figueroa also accused Castro of causing a blood clot on her brain, according to the 2005 documents. A judge granted a protection order, but lifted it three months later after repeated court delays and hearings Castro did not attend, according to the documents.

She died last year.

Figueroa’s father, Ishmael Figueroa, said Ariel Castro was abusive toward his late daughter. He said he and his wife once shared a house with Castro and Grimilda, and Castro would not let family members upstairs to the second floor where the couple lived. When they moved to the Seymour Avenue house, Castro would not let family members inside, Figueroa said.

Castro was a school bus driver until November, when he was fired, according to school district records released Tuesday night.

His firing came after he had left his bus unattended outside a school after his preschool routes had been canceled, without notifying his dispatcher or depot.

“He previously had been suspended for 60 days for leaving a child on a bus; 60 days for making an illegal U-turn in rush hour traffic with a bus load of students, and last school year for using the bus to do his grocery shopping,” the letter recommending his dismissal states.

Tito DeJesus, a sometimes bandmate of Castro’s, said he had been inside of Castro’s home once, about two years ago, to help deliver a washer and dryer he’d sold to the suspect and saw “a normal environment.”

DeJesus said he isn’t related to the rescued Gina DeJesus but had known the family for years.

“It didn’t seem to be a place where women were being held against their will,” he said. “Of course, mind you, I didn’t go throughout the entire house. I was just at the beginning of the house, in the living room, but it seemed normal.”

No previous suspicions

Cleveland officials insistently batted down claims by neighbors that they called police to report suspicious activity at the home.

“Media reports of multiple calls to the Cleveland Police reporting suspicious activity and the mistreatment of women at 2207 Seymour are false,” spokeswoman Maureen Harper said in an e-mailed statement.

Other officials said call records contained no evidence that neighbors ever called police to report unusual activity at the home.

On Tuesday, neighbor Israel Lugo and another neighbor, Nina Samoylicz, told CNN that they had called police in recent years to report separate incidents at the home.

Samoylicz said she and others saw a naked woman in the backyard of the home and called police.

Faliceonna Lopez, Samoylicz’ sister, told a slightly different version Tuesday night on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.” She said after seeing the woman, they told their mother, not police.

The mother, Annita Lugo, told Morgan that she didn’t call police, either, saying, “I definitely would have called then but it was hours later and I really — I really didn’t — you know, I was just stuck. I was dumbfounded, didn’t know how to take it, you know?”

Police had visited the home twice, authorities said Tuesday, once after Castro called about a fight in the street and again in 2004 to investigate the bus incident.

‘We’re hoping for a miracle’

Investigators had previously speculated that the disappearances of Berry, DeJesus and another girl, 14-year-old Ashley Summers, may have been connected. Summers’ family last saw her in July 2007, when she was 14.

“We did in fact believe there was an association between the Berry case and the DeJesus case as well as the Summers case,” said former FBI agent Jennifer Eakin. Eakin is now a case manager at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which in 2008 held a comprehensive review of the cases with the FBI and Cleveland police.

Now the Summers family is hoping that the Cleveland investigation will yield information about Ashley, her aunt, Debra Summers, said.

“We’re hoping for a miracle,” she said.

Anderson, the FBI spokeswoman, said investigators will question the three women found Monday in the hope that they know something about Summers’ disappearance.

CNN’s Zoraida Sambolin reported from Cleveland and Ed Payne reported and wrote in Atlanta. Matt Smith, Greg Botelho, Michael Pearson, Tory Dunnan, Martin Savidge, Jason Hanna, Josh Levs, Steve Almasy, Laura Ly and Rande Iaboni also contributed to this report.

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