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Ariel Castro (July 11th, 1960 - September 3rd, 2013) was a Puerto Rican man who kidnapped, raped, and held local women Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight in his Cleveland, Ohio home for 10, 9, and 11 years, respectively. On May 6th, 2013, the three women whom he abducted escaped their confinement with the help of neighbor Charles Ramsey and police officers. He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison. His house was demolished on August 7th, 2013.
On September 3rd, 2013, he was found dead having hung himself in his cell at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio, 15 miles away from Columbus.
Ariel Castro was born in Duey, Yauco, Puerto Rico, the son of Pedro Castro (1938–2004) and Lillian Rodriguez (born 1942). His parents divorced when he was a child, and he moved to mainland United States with his mother and three full siblings. They settled in Reading, Pennsylvania, and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Castro's father and other family members were living. Castro had nine siblings (both full and half) and he graduated from Cleveland's Lincoln-West High School in 1979.
Castro met his girlfriend Grimilda Figueroa when his family moved into a house across the street from hers in the 1980s. They lived with both sets of parents, but moved into their own home at 2207 Seymour Avenue in 1992. Their home was a two-story, 1,400-square-foot (130 m2), four-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a 760-square-foot (71 m2) unfinished basement built in 1890 and remodeled in 1956. Figueroa's sister Elida Caraballo said that "all hell started breaking loose" when the couple moved into their new home. Caraballo and her husband Frank claim that Castro beat Figueroa, breaking her nose, ribs, and arms and causing a blood clot on her brain that resulted in an inoperable tumor. He also threw her down a flight of stairs, cracking her skull. In 1993, Castro was arrested for domestic violence but was not indicted by a grand jury.
Figueroa moved out of the home in 1996 and secured custody of her four children. Police assisted in the move and detained Castro, but they did not press charges. Castro continued to threaten and attack Figueroa after she left him, according to Caraballo. Figueroa filed charges in 2005 in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court accusing him of inflicting multiple severe injuries on her and of "frequently" abducting their daughters. The court granted her a temporary restraining order against Castro, but it was dismissed a few months later. Figueroa died in 2012 due to complications from her brain tumor.
Before his arrest at age 52, Castro worked as a bus driver for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District until he was fired for "bad judgment", including making an illegal U-turn with children on his bus, using his bus to go grocery shopping, leaving a child on the bus while he went for lunch, and leaving the bus unattended while he took a nap at home. He was earning $18.91 per hour when he was discharged. At the time of his arrest, Castro's home was in foreclosure after three years of unpaid real estate taxes.
Castro kidnapped his victims by offering them a ride; he drove each to his home, lured them inside, took them to the basement, and restrained them in his house at 2207 Seymour Avenue, located in Cleveland's residential Tremont neighborhood. The house has since been demolished.
Castro kidnapped Knight, took her upstairs, tied her hands and feet together, and pulled her up using her hands, feet, and neck. He left her there for three days without food. Prosecutors at Castro's sentencing wrote that diaries kept by the women "speak of forced sexual conduct, of being locked in a dark room, of anticipating the next session of abuse, of the dreams of someday escaping and being reunited with family, of being chained to a wall, of being held like a prisoner of war, of missing the lives they once enjoyed, of emotional abuse, of his threats to kill, of being treated like an animal, of continuous abuse, and of desiring freedom". The women were kept in locked upstairs bedrooms, where they were forced to use plastic toilets that were "emptied infrequently". They were fed one meal a day and allowed to shower twice a week at most.
Knight told police that Castro had impregnated her at least five times and had induced miscarriages each time through beatings, hitting her with dumbbells, punching her, and slamming her against walls. He also starved her. Knight's grandmother told reporters that she would require facial reconstruction surgery due to the beatings that she endured, and she lost hearing in one ear. At one point, she had a pet dog while in captivity, but Castro killed it by snapping its neck after it bit him while trying to protect Knight. DeJesus told law enforcement that she was raped but did not believe that she was ever impregnated.
In December 2006, Castro allegedly ordered Knight to assist in the birth of Berry's child, which took place in a small inflatable swimming pool, and he threatened to kill her if the baby did not survive. At one point, the baby stopped breathing, but Knight was able to resuscitate her. Castro occasionally took the child out of the house, including to visit his mother; the girl called him "daddy" and Castro's mother "grandmother". In 2013, he showed one of his adult daughters a picture of the child and said that she was his girlfriend's daughter from a previous relationship. He had told others that she was his granddaughter.
According to a statement from Cleveland Police, officers visited Castro's home only once following the kidnappings to discuss an unrelated incident. Castro did not appear to be home at the time and was later interviewed elsewhere. Neighbors claimed to have called the police about suspicious activity observed at the home, but police have said that they have no record of any such calls. Castro's son Anthony reported that there were certain areas of the house that were inaccessible due to being locked. He also mentioned an occasion three weeks before the women's escape when Castro asked him if Berry would ever be found. Anthony said that he told Castro that Berry was likely dead, to which Castro responded: "Really? You think so?"
NBC affiliate WKYC reported that Castro recalled each of the three abductions in great detail during his interrogation and indicated that they were unplanned crimes of opportunity. According to WKYC's sources, Castro did not have an "exit plan" and believed that he would eventually be caught. He referred to himself as "coldblooded" and a sex addict. Police found a suicide note in his home in which he discussed the abductions and wrote that his money and possessions should be given to the kidnapped women if he were caught.
On May 6th, 2013, Berry was finally able to make contact with Castro's neighbors, leading to her escape with her 6-year-old daughter and the rescue of DeJesus and Knight by authorities. According to police, Castro left the house that day and Berry realized that he failed to lock the "big inside door", although the exterior storm door was bolted. She did not attempt to break through the outer door because she thought that Castro "was testing her", according to the police report. Previously, Castro had tested the women by leaving the house partially unlocked and exits unsecured. If they attempted to escape, he beat them. Instead, Berry screamed for help when she saw neighbors through the screen.
Neighbor Angel Cordero responded to the screaming but was unable to communicate with Berry because he spoke little English. Neighbor Charles Ramsey joined Cordero at the house's front door during the rescue. They kicked a hole through the bottom of the storm door and Berry crawled through, carrying her daughter. Ramsey said that Berry told him that she and her child were being kept inside the house against her will. Upon being freed, she went to the house of another Spanish-speaking neighbor and called 9-1-1, saying "Help me, I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for ten years. And I'm here. I'm free now!"
Responding police officers entered Castro's house. They walked through an upstairs hallway with guns drawn, announcing themselves as Cleveland Police. After peeking out from a slightly opened bedroom door, Knight entered the hallway and leaped into an officer's arms, repeatedly saying, "You saved me." Soon afterward, DeJesus entered the hallway from another room. Knight and DeJesus walked out of the home, and all three women, plus the child, were taken to MetroHealth Medical Center. Berry and DeJesus were released from the hospital the next day, and Knight was discharged four days later on May 10th.
Arrest and trial
Castro was arrested on May 6th, 2013. He was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape on May 8th, which carry prison sentences of ten years to life in Ohio. Two of Castro's brothers were also initially taken into custody, but were released on May 9 after police announced that they had no involvement in the kidnappings.
Castro made his first court appearance at the Cleveland Municipal Court on May 9th, where bail was set at $2 million per kidnapping charge, adding to a total of $8 million. Additional charges were reported to be pending, including aggravated murder (for intentional induction of miscarriages), attempted murder, assault, a charge for each instance of rape, and a kidnapping charge for each day each captive was held. On May 14th, Castro's attorneys said he would plead "not guilty" to all charges if indicted for kidnapping and rape.
On August 1st, Castro was sentenced to life in prison, plus 1,000 years, all without any possibility of parole.
Castro was found hanging from a bed sheet in his detention cell at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio, on the evening of September 3rd, 2013, one month into his life sentence. He was 53 at the time of his death. Prison staff performed CPR on him before he was taken to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, where he was pronounced dead shortly after. The following day, Franklin County coroner Jan Gorniak announced that a preliminary autopsy had found the cause of Castro's death to be suicide by hanging.