Three long-missing women freed in Cleveland: Latest developments

Three long-missing women freed in Cleveland: Latest developments
Courtesy Verdi Adams
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Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 8:52pm

Three long-missing women -- Amanda Berry, 27; Georgina "Gina" DeJesus, 23; and Michelle Knight, 32 -- and a 6-year-old daughter apparently born to Berry in captivity -- were found alive Monday in Cleveland, police said. The women are believed to have been abducted years ago -- in 2002, 2003 and 2004 -- and held captive at a man's home, according to police.

A suspect, Ariel Castro, 52, was arrested Monday. Two of his brothers also were arrested, but authorities later announced that those two would not be charged in the case. On Thursday, bail for Ariel Castro was set at $8 million on four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape.

Here are recent developments:

New development:

-- Angie Gregg, one of Ariel Castro's daughters, said she learned by phone Monday her father's house was taped off after three young women had been freed after being held captive for years. "It was like everything crashed down, like I just wanted to melt into the floor," Gregg told CNN on Thursday, upon hearing her father was a suspect. "I just wanted to die. I couldn't believe it."

-- Ariel Castro "kept his house locked down so tight" and would sometimes leave mysteriously for an hour or so, then return, with "no explanation," Gregg said. "Everything's making sense now," she added. "It's all adding up, and I'm just disgusted."

Previously reported developments:

-- Cleveland kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro confessed to some of his actions during the roughly decade-long period in which he allegedly held three women and repeatedly sexually assaulted them, a law enforcement source closely involved with the investigation said. The source did not describe precisely what Castro confessed to when he was interrogated by authorities.

-- The three women and the child were rescued Monday after, according to a neighbor, screams came from the home.

-- Angel Cordero and Charles Ramsey say they responded to the screaming by helping to kick in a door to help Berry escape.

-- Berry and Ramsey called 911. "Help me, I am Amanda Berry," she begged the operator. "I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years. And I'm here, I'm free now."

-- In addition to Berry and her 6-year-old daughter, police found DeJesus and Knight at the home; all three said they were held captive there, according to authorities.

-- Police later arrested Ariel Castro, who's identified as a former school bus driver, and his two brothers. The three Castro brothers were together when they were arrested, at which time authorities felt "we had enough probable cause to bring them into custody," Cleveland police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said. But over the course of the investigation, officials "found no facts to link" Onil and Pedro Castro to the kidnapping case.

-- Onil and Pedro Castro have been released from custody, Cleveland police tweeted Thursday. The two men appeared in court earlier in the day on misdemeanor cases unrelated to the three women's alleged kidnapping.

-- Bail for Ariel Castro was set at $2 million per case, for a total of $8 million, at his arraignment Thursday morning in Cleveland Municipal Court. In the four cases -- one case for each of the women, and one for the 6-year-old girl -- he was arraigned on a total of four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. The state had asked for bail to be set at $5 million.

-- Castro made "premeditated, deliberate and depraved decisions to snatch three young ladies ... to be used in whatever self-gratifying, self-serving way he saw fit," Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor Brian Murphy said Thursday morning during Castro's arraignment.

-- Later Thursday, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said that his office will seek charges against kidnapping suspect Ariel Castro "for each and every act of sexual violence, each day of kidnapping, all his attempted murders and each act of aggravated murder." The attempted and aggravated murders refer to instances in which Castro allegedly was involved in "terminating pregnancies" of the women he held captive, according to McGinty.

-- Authorities "will evaluate whether we will seek charges eligible for the death penalty," McGinty added.

-- Ariel Castro's mother spoke briefly to Univision and Telemundo. "I have a sick son, who has done something serious," she said. "I'm suffering very much. I ask for forgiveness from those mothers, may those girls forgive me."

-- In charging documents for Ariel Castro released Wednesday, police said that Castro lured Knight into his vehicle on Lorain Avenue on August 22, 2002, took her to his home, and over the subsequent years "repeatedly sexually assaulted" her. Police laid out the same scenario for Berry, who was allegedly lured into Castro's vehicle on the same road on April 21, 2003. DeJesus was allegedly lured into Castro's vehicle on April 2, 2004, and, like the other two women, sexually assaulted repeatedly in the subsequent years.

-- Angel Cordero, who helped rescue Berry and her daughter, said she told him they had to leave quickly before the suspect returned home. "She said, 'Let's get out of here, because if that guy comes he's going to kill us. If he finds me here, he is going to kill me and he's going to kill you." Cordero also told CNN en Español that Berry's daughter did not appear accustomed to being around many people. She was wearing only a diaper and a sullied shirt, the rescuer said.

-- Knight, of Cleveland, was reported missing by a family member on August 23, 2002, said Martin Flask, Cleveland's public safety director. She was 21 at the time, according Cleveland police.

-- Berry was last seen after finishing her shift at a Burger King in Cleveland in 2003. It was the eve of her 17th birthday.

-- DeJesus, of Cleveland, disappeared nearly a year later, in April 2004. She was 14.

-- Arlene Castro, a daughter of Ariel Castro, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that she was not especially close with her father, but had been a good friend of DeJesus, one of the women freed Monday. She said the accusations against her father have left her "really disappointed, embarrassed, mainly devastated," adding that she is "absolutely so, so sorry" for the whole ordeal.

-- The three women hadn't left Ariel Castro's property and had only gone outside "on two separate occasions ... briefly" in the years in which they were held captive, Flask said.

-- Ariel Castro would often test his captives by pretending to leave, then returning suddenly to discipline them if they made any move to escape, a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation told CNN. Amanda Berry "just knew" that (suspect Ariel) Castro was gone at the time and "had hit her breaking point," according to the source.

-- The women "relied on each other for survival," a law enforcement source with firsthand knowledge of the investigation said. The three interacted during their captivity, though they were typically kept in separate rooms, according to the source.

-- Ohio Attorney General's office spokesman Dan Tierney said Thursday that the FBI and Cleveland police have asked the state crime lab to expedite DNA tests on Amanda Berry's now 6-year-old daughter -- tests that typically take 20 days to complete, but ideally will be back by Friday -- to determine if Castro is the father.

-- When Berry escaped, the two other women could have run but chose not to, the law enforcement source with firsthand knowledge of the investigation said. The two other women who did not flee had "succumbed" to "their reality," the source said, describing them as brainwashed and fearful.

-- None of the three women was bound on the day they were freed, according to the source. Earlier, Cleveland's police chief told NBC's "Today" show that "we have confirmation that they were bound, and there (were) chains and ropes in the home."

-- Knight's missing persons report from the Cleveland Police Department describes her as having "mental abnormalities"; many family members seemed to be unaware that she was missing.

-- Knight still was at Cleveland's Metro Health Medical Center on Thursday morning, hospital spokeswoman Tina Shaerban-Arundel said. The spokeswoman has not said what Knight is being treated for, but did say that she "is in good condition." On Tuesday, the hospital said that it had released all three rescued women. Shaerban-Arundel said that the hospital stood by its Tuesday statement, but she did not elaborate.

-- Knight's mother told NBC on Wednesday that she cried when she heard her daughter was found. Barbara Knight told NBC that she had been looking for her daughter during the years she was gone. "She's probably angry at the world because she thought she would never be found, but thank God that somebody did." She was asked what she would say to Michelle if and when she got to see her. "I love you and I missed you all this time," she said.

-- Gina DeJesus was greeted by cheers when she returned Wednesday afternoon to a family home in Cleveland.

-- Her aunt, Sandra Ruiz, expressed thanks Wednesday afternoon for those who supported the family over the years. "There are not enough words to say or express the joy that we feel ... for the return of ... Gina," Ruiz said.

-- The aunt also asked the community not to forget Ashley Summers, who was last seen in July 2007. "Now we need to... rally together to look next door and bring .... Ashley Summers, home," Ruiz said, adding that her family feels connected in spirit to missing people like Summers.

-- But the investigation thus far hasn't led to any new information on Ashley Summers, who was 14 when she went missing in 2007, said Tomba. He said "her disappearance was part of the questioning" of the three Castro brothers who were initially arrested.

-- Late Wednesday morning, authorities escorted Berry, her daughter and her sister, Beth Serrano, to Serrano's Cleveland house. Serrano came outside and talked to reporters briefly, saying: "Our family would request privacy so my sister, niece and I can have time to recover. ... Please respect our privacy until we are ready to make our statements." Police initially said Berry would address the media, but it was later announced that she would not speak publicly Wednesday.

-- A fund has been set up -- the Cleveland Courage Fund -- to raise money for the long-missing women and others affected, the city of Cleveland announced Wednesday on Twitter. Money will go toward supporting those who have been held captive and organizations that assist them.

-- By 5 p.m. Wednesday, law enforcement authorities had "completed their search" of Ariel Castro's home, said Flask, Cleveland's public safety director. More than 200 items were taken from the house, which Tomba said "was in quite a bit of disarray" when officers entered.

-- Among those items are items that investigators believe Castro wrote, said two law enforcement sources closely involved in the case.

-- Those writings contain "specific detailing of actions and reasons behind actions" associated with the abduction of three women and their kidnapper's behavior toward them, one of the law enforcement sources said. The source -- who described the "pretty lengthy" writings as "more of a diary" -- said while the writings included talk of suicide, that was just one aspect, and the suspect's history of abuse by family members was cited as justification for his actions.

-- Law enforcement authorities Wednesday afternoon searched a boarded-up house and detached garage two doors down from the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro. FBI agents in protective suits were on site, accompanied by dogs. Some of the agents carried shovels.

-- New information "provided us enough probable cause to seek another search warrant" for a second Seymour Avenue home -- two doors down from Ariel Castro's house -- that authorities searched Wednesday, said Tomba. He did not specify what information led authorities to search the boarded-up house.

-- Nina Samoylicz, who lives near Ariel Castro's home, said she called police about three years ago after spotting a naked woman in the backyard of Castro's house. Samoylicz said when she called out to the woman, a man told the woman to get in the house, then ran in himself. "(Police) thought we was playing, joking, they didn't believe us," Samoylicz said.

-- Faliceonna Lopez, Samoylicz's sister, told a slightly different version of events Tuesday on CNN's "Piers Morgan Live." She said that after seeing the naked 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 them, 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?"

-- Sgt. Sammy Morris, a Cleveland police spokesman, told CNN that the department had no record of a 911 call reporting a naked woman at Castro's address. And on Wednesday, a city spokeswoman said flatly that there was no truth to claims that any reports were made.

-- Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard yelling in the house in November 2011 and called police to investigate, but they left after no one answered the door. Police took to Twitter on Wednesday to deny that they received a call about "women held or women banging on windows."

-- Officials have no indication that anybody living near the Cleveland home ever called authorities about anything suspicious there, Flask said Tuesday. He said that assessment is based on an initial review of city databases; officials will continue to examine the databases, he said.

-- Since the first woman's disappearance, police were called to the home once -- in January 2004 -- Flask said. Investigators were there at the request of Children and Family Services to investigate a complaint that Castro left a child on a school bus while he was working as a school bus driver, Flask said. Investigators knocked on the home's door but were "unsuccessful in making contact." The matter was later dropped when investigators determined that Castro had no criminal intent in the bus incident, he added.

-- Ivan "Papo" Ruiz -- who is the owner of Rincon Criollo, a popular Puerto Rican restaurant in Cleveland, and who leads a salsa and meringue band of which Ariel Castro was once a member -- told CNN that his former bandmate seemed "different" and gave him a "weird vibe." Castro was forced out of the band after repeatedly showing up late for rehearsals, or not coming at all, after which he got aggressive, Ruiz said. Despite his views and experiences, Ruiz said he was shocked to hear what Castro was accused of, saying the suspect comes from a family admired in the community.

-- Amanda Berry's grandmother, Fern Gentry of Tennessee, told CNN on Thursday that hearing that Berry was alive, 10 years after her disappearance, was the "most important thing that ever happened in my life." Gentry, who spoke to Berry by phone from her Tennessee home Tuesday, said she was thankful for people who helped in her rescue. "If she hadn't got out, I don't think she would have lived very much longer. ... It's just a miracle she appeared back with us. ... I can't wait to see her and the baby."

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