The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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May 8, 2013

Police build case against 3 brothers in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — Two of the women held captive for a decade at a run-down Cleveland house were welcomed home by cheering crowds of loved ones and neighbors with balloons and banners Wednesday as police built a case against the three brothers under arrest.

Gina DeJesus, who disappeared in 2004, arrived home in the afternoon to chants of “Gina! Gina!” Wearing a bright yellow hooded sweatshirt, she was led through the crowd and into the house by a woman who put her arm around the young woman’s shoulders and held her tight. Neither DeJesus, who is in her early 20s, nor her family had any immediate comment.

Earlier in the day, Amanda Berry, 27, arrived at her sister’s home, which was similarly festooned with dozens of colorful balloons and signs, one reading “We Never Lost Hope Mandy.” Hundreds cheered wildly but weren’t able to get a glimpse of Berry as she went in through the back. Berry’s sister thanked the public for its support but asked for privacy.

The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported in good condition at Metro Health Medical Center, which a day earlier had reported that all three victims had been released. There was no immediate explanation from the hospital.

Charges were expected by the end of the day against the owner of the house where the women were discovered, Ariel Castro, 52, and brothers Onil, 50, and Pedro, 54. Police said they apparently bound their captives with ropes and chains.

Neighbors said that Ariel Castro took part in the search for one of the missing women, helped pass out fliers, performed music at a fundraiser for her and attended a candlelight vigil, where her comforted her mother. As recently as 2005, Castro was accused of repeated acts of violence against his children’s mother.

In a development that astonished and exhilarated much of Cleveland, the three women were rescued on Monday after Berry broke through a screen door at the Castro house and told a 911 dispatcher: “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”

Law enforcement officials left many questions unanswered, including how the women were taken captive, whether they were sexually abused and who fathered Berry’s 6-year-old daughter. Police spokesman Sammy Morris said ropes and chains were taken from the house.

On NBC’s “Today” show, Police Chief Michael McGrath said he was “absolutely” sure police did everything they could to find the women over the years. He disputed claims by neighbors that officers had been called to the house before for suspicious circumstances.

“We have no record of those calls coming in over the past 10 years,” McGrath said. On Tuesday, some neighbors said that they had told police years ago about hearing pounding on the doors of the home and seeing a naked woman crawling in the yard.

A 2005 domestic-violence filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court accused Ariel Castro of twice breaking the nose of his children’s mother, knocking out a tooth, dislocating each shoulder and threatening to kill her and her daughters three or four times in a year.

The filing for a protective order by Grimilda Figueroa also said that Castro frequently abducted her daughters and kept them from her.

In 1993, Castro was arrested on a domestic-violence charge and spent three days in jail before he was released on bail. A grand jury did not return an indictment against him, according to court documents, which don’t detail the allegations. It was unclear who brought the charge.

Neighbors and those who know Castro said he joined in the search for DeJesus nearly a decade ago and comforted her mother just a year ago at a vigil.

“When we went out to look for Gina, he helped pass out fliers,” said Khalid Samad, a community activist who said Castro was friends with DeJesus’ father.

Meanwhile, the aunt of a 14-year-old girl who disappeared in 2007 near the house where the missing women were found said the girl’s mother has spoken with the FBI.

“We’re hoping for our miracle, too,” said Debra Summers, who described her niece, Ashley Summers, as not the type of girl who would leave without coming back.

The FBI did not immediately return a call about the case and whether it was connected to that of the three missing women.

———

Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Jesse Washington, Mike Householder and freelance reporter John Coyne in Cleveland, Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati, John Seewer in Toledo,  and news researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York, contributed to this report.

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