x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Cleveland kidnapping suspect held on $8m bail

Three women suffered prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and had miscarriages during a decade of captivity, official says.

Unemployed American bus driver Ariel Castro appears at Cleveland Municipal Court over the kidnapping of three women.
Unemployed American bus driver Ariel Castro appears at Cleveland Municipal Court over the kidnapping of three women.
CLEVELAND, UNITED STATES // The man accused of kidnapping and raping three women who had been missing for about a decade who made his first court appearance yesterday and was held on an US$8 million (Dh29m) bail.

Ariel Castro, who was handcuffed, stared at the ground for nearly the entire hearing, biting his collar and signing documents. He did not speak.

The women were found alive in his house after a decade in captivity. They had endured lonely, dark lives inside a dingy building where they were raped and allowed outside only a handful of times, wearing disguises while walking to the property's garage just a few metres away, investigators said.

Castro, a 52-year-old former school-bus driver, is the sole suspect in the case.

While many questions remain about how he 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 were beginning to emerge.

Police said they had been bound with ropes and chains at times, and kept in separate rooms. They suffered prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and had miscarriages, a city official said.

Castro has been charged with four counts of kidnapping - one for each captive and a daughter born to one of them - and three counts of rape.

The women and Castro have given lengthy statements to police that have helped build their case, said Ed Tomba, Cleveland's deputy police chief.

None of the women had given any indication that Castro's two older brothers, who have been in custody since Monday, were involved, he said, adding: "Ariel kept everyone at a distance."

One thing that remained a mystery, he said, was how he managed to keep the women inside the house for 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, were kidnapped separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.

They never found a chance to escape until this week, when Amanda Berry broke through a door and ran to freedom, alerting police who rescued the other women while Castro was away from the house.

In newly released police audio tapes, an emergency dispatcher is heard telling officers on Monday that she had just spoken to a woman who "says her name is Amanda Berry and that she had been kidnapped 10 years ago."

An officer says, "This might be for real."

After police arrive at the house, women can be heard on the tape crying in the background. Then an officer tells the dispatcher: "We found 'em. We found 'em."

Mr Tomba said of Ms 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 6-year-old daughter. A paternity test was being carried to confirm that he fathered the child.

Few people in Cleveland, outside of the women's families, thought there was any chance they were still alive.

Ms Berry, 27, and Gina DeJesus, who is in her early 20s, were welcomed home on Wednesday by jubilant crowds of loved ones and neighbours with balloons and banners. Relatives 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.

Ms Ruiz said she had spent time with all three women after they were rescued. "There's no word to describe the beauty of just seeing them," she said.

Ms DeJesus's father pumped his fist after arriving home with his daughter, and urged people across the country to watch over the youngsters in their neighbourhoods - including other people's children.

"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?'" he said.

"Why? Because we chose not to."

The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was said in good condition at Metro Health Medical Centre yesterday.