Prosecutors on Wednesday formally charged a former Cleveland school bus driver with kidnapping and raping three young women who were rescued from his home earlier this week after a decade of captivity, according to police.
Ariel Castro, 52, faces three counts of rape and four counts of kidnapping, and could face additional charges as the investigation continues, law enforcement officials said. The additional kidnapping charge applies to the six-year-old daughter of Amanda Berry, whose escape from Castro’s Seymour Avenue house on the city’s lower west side led to the subsequent rescue of Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.
Castro is expected in court this morning.
Meanwhile, no charges were filed against Castro’s brothers, Onil and Pedro, who had been held on outstanding warrants for unrelated misdemeanor cases. All three had been in police custody since they were arrested on Monday night, but police said there was no evidence anyone but Ariel Castro was involved in the crimes.
“Early on you can imagine the chaos and the relief that we had finding these three girls,” Cleveland Deputy Chief Edward Tomba said of the initial decision to arrest the three brothers. “We had enough probable cause to bring them into custody. They were brought into custody…but as we continued our investigation, we found no facts to link them.”
Berry and DeJesus returned to their family’s homes Wednesday, located just miles from where police said they were held, to hundreds of well-wishers and swarms of media members. Knight was still in a Cleveland hospital Wednesday.
Berry’s sister, Beth Serrano, spoke briefly to the crowd, thanking the community for their support while asking for privacy.
A welcome banner stretched across the porch and teddy bears and balloons were left in front of the house, along with signed cards expressing sympathy. People also left gifts.
“I can’t imagine how their family is feeling right now after all these years,” said Heaven Barrientos, a neighbor.
Later Wednesday, DeJesus was escorted into her home by a woman with her arms around her. Wearing a bright hooded shirt, DeJesus lifted her arm and acknowledged the cheering crowd.
Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins, who was briefed on the investigation, said the women were subjected to sexual abuse and suffered multiple miscarriages. He also said the women were kept in the basement for some time without having access to rest of the house.
While declining to discuss many of the circumstances involved in the captivity of the women and child, police and prosecutors did provide a few chilling details.
Police have obtained a search warrant for Castro’s DNA, and were performing a paternity test to see whether he fathered Berry’s child, Tomba told reporters. Castro is cooperating with the investigation and provided prosecutors with a detailed statement, Tomba said.
He said the women were kept in different areas of the house, which Tomba described as being in “disarray.” The women were allowed out of the house just twice in 10 years, he said — and that was only to walk the roughly 20 yards from the house to a garage at the back of the property. The women were made to wear wigs when they did so, Tomba said.
Police chief Michael McGrath said on Today Show Wednesday morning that the women had been bound while in captivity.
Police expanded their investigation to search nearby houses on Seymour Avenue. Tomba declined to say what police were looking for, or what evidence, if any, has been seized.
Cleveland Director of Public Safety Marty Flask refuted widely-reported claims from neighbors who said they saw the women naked in Castro’s backyard. The neighbors said they’d called police, who responded but never entered the house.
“There is no evidence to indicate that any of them were ever outside in the yard in chains without clothing or any other manner,” he said.
Flask said police only had contact with Castro twice — once in 2000, before the abductions, when Castro reported a fight in the street outside his house. The other occasion was in 2004, when he was questioned about leaving a student in his Cleveland Metropolitan School District bus while he ate at a fast food restaurant.
Castro was supposed to take two students to a special education program, according to a police report contained within Castro’s Cleveland schools personnel files, a copy of which was obtained through a public records request. He escorted another student into school but left the other one behind. He then drove to a fast food restaurant to eat, telling the student to “lay down bitch” before going inside, according to the files.
When Castro returned, he drove the bus around, and parked it for awhile before eventually dropping the student off.
Police knocked on Castro’s door, but didn’t find him there. They later interviewed him, but never went inside his house, according to police. Eventually they determined he hadn’t broken the law.
Cleveland schools suspended Castro for 60 days following the incident.
He was fired in October 2012 after left his school bus unattended for five hours at an elementary school two blocks from his house, according to a letter contained in his personnel file. Castro wrote that he “went home to rest. I’ve been helping depot with many routes that needed coverage. I felt tired …”
He had worked for the district for 11 years and made $18.91 an hour at the time of his firing.
Court records show Castro was arrested for domestic violence in 1993, but a grand jury declined to indict him.
Maria Castro-Montes, a cousin of Ariel Castro’s, said she and the rest of her family are shocked by the explosive developments of the last few days.
“No one can believe any of this… we are good people,” she said.
She said she had not had much contact with her cousin for more than 10 years.
“On behalf of the Castro family, we’re so sorry for everything you (the victims and their families) went through. We’re so sorry for everything you’ve suffered. I’m a mom. I can’t even imagine,” Castro-Montes said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.