- Reports women had five pregnancies between them
- Police had previously been called to the house
- Suspect is friends with father of Gina DeJesus
- Girl pictured with Amanda Berry is her daughter
Barely 24 hours after three women were freed from years of captivity in a Cleveland house, disturbing details have emerged about their treatment at the hands of the suspected kidnappers.
We didn't search hard enough. She was right under our nose the whole time.
Police sources in Ohio told news affiliate WKYC that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were repeatedly raped and beaten by their captors. The sources also said the young women, who were abducted in their teens, had had up to five pregnancies between them.
Together again: Amanda Berry, right, hugs her sister Beth Serrano after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital. Photo: AP
The case, which has electrified the public, has raised questions about how such a heinous crime could be committed for years, under the nose of the public.
It has also emerged that suspect Ariel Castro, 52, had a history of violence with women. Former partner Grimilda Figueroa filed a domestic violence complaint against Castro in August 2005, claiming he had severely beaten her and threatened to kill her and her children, according to WKYC.
In a chilling note in the domestic violence petition, it said: "Respondent (Castro) frequently abducts daughters and keeps them from mother," according to the Ohio news station.
Rescued: Amanda Berry, left, and Gina DeJesus. Photo: Reuters
Authorities attempted to visit the home in 2004 on a matter unrelated to the disappearances but were unable to enter, police said. Court records show Ariel Castro was arrested in 1993 on a domestic violence charge that was subsequently dismissed.
But one neighbour told the Associated Press a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago. Another heard pounding on the home's doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows. Both times, police showed up but never went inside, neighbours said.
Authorities said it will be some time before the details of the ordeal come out, as FBI agents go about the delicate task of interviewing Berry, DeJesus and Knight. Police did confirm that Berry, now 27, has a six-year-old daughter, apparently born while she was in captivity.
Investigation: members of the FBI evidence team remove items from the house. Photo: AP
The three Ohio women were abducted separately in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and were found in the home of 52-year-old Ariel Castro, not far from where each disappeared.
Castro and his brothers - Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50 - have been detained, authorities said.
It was not immediately clear why the women were abducted and how they were held. The city heaved a sigh of relief at the happy ending to a horrible story. The women were released from a Cleveland hospital early on Tuesday.
Celebrations: the house of Amanda Berry's sister Beth. Photo: Reuters
‘‘For Amanda’s family, for Gina’s family, for Michelle’s family, prayers have finally been answered,’’ FBI special agent Steve Anthony told a press conference.
‘‘The nightmare is over. These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin,’’ Anthony said.
"Due to Amanda's brave actions, these three women are alive today": Cleveland police chief Michael McGrath speaks at a press conference. Photo: AFP
The disappearances of Berry and DeJesus were well known in Cleveland, although Knight's disappearance had attracted less attention, police said. Just last month a vigil was held to mark the ninth anniversary of DeJesus' disappearance.
Friend of the family
Anthony Quiros, 24, who grew up next door to the house where the women were found, said bus driver Ariel Castro had been an onlooker as police dug up a Cleveland lot looking for remains in the case on a tip that proved false.
House of horrors: The residence where three women escaped. Photo: AP
"He also came to a vigil and acted as if nothing was wrong," said Quiros. He said he saw Castro comforting DeJesus's mother about a year ago.
Ariel Castro was friends with the father of DeJesus, said Khalid Samad, a friend of the family. He also performed music at a fundraiser held in her honour, Samad said.
"When we went out to look for Gina, he helped pass out fliers," said Samad, a community activist who was at the hospital with DeJesus and her family on Monday night. "You know, he was friends with the family."
Born in Puerto Rico, Castro played bass in Latin music bands in the area. Neighbours said he sometimes parked his school bus in front of the house at lunchtime and would take multiple bags of fast food inside.
They said he was divorced more than a decade ago and his ex-wife had since died.
On a Facebook page believed to belong to Castro, he said last month that he had just become a grandfather for a fifth time.
Tito DeJesus, an uncle of Gina DeJesus who used to play Latin music with Castro, said on CNN he had been in the house two years ago and saw nothing suspicious. He said the living room was filled with bass guitars.
Cleveland Director of Public Safety Martin Flask said police had not been alerted to anything untoward happening at the house on Seymour Avenue.
Police came to the house twice over the years - once in 2000 when the detained owner Ariel Castro reported a fight in the street, and again in 2004 because in his job as a school bus driver, he had inadvertently left a child on board when he parked the vehicle at a lot.
No charges were filed, Flask said.
In good health
What went on in the house for the past decade or so will come out in time from the women themselves, deputy police chief Ed Tomba said.
Tomba said he has seen the women on Monday night and they seemed to be in fairly good health, although he said ‘‘they needed a good meal.’’
The long nightmare ended when Berry - kidnapped 10 years ago at the age of 16, just shy of her 17th birthday, - reached her arm through a crack in the front door and called for help.
‘‘I heard screaming... And I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside of the house,’’ neighbour Charles Ramsey told the local ABC news affiliate.‘
‘I go on the porch, and she said, ’Help me get out. I’ve been here a long time’.’’
Ramsey, a bystander now hailed as a hero, said he tried to get her out through the door but could not pull it open, so he kicked out the bottom and she crawled through, ‘‘carrying a little girl.’’
Video - Witness reaction: 'I thought this girl was dead'
Authorities confirmed the six-year-old child who fled the house was Amanda Berry's, but they gave no information about the identity of the father.
Berry went into a neighbouring home and called police, begging them to come as soon as they could, ‘‘before he gets back.’’
‘‘I’m Amanda Berry. (...) I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and am here. I’m free now,’’ a frantic Berry says in the recording of her 911 call to emergency services.
When police arrived, she said two other women were being held captive.
Berry was last seen on April 21, 2003, when she left work at a fast food restaurant just a few blocks from her home.
'She's like my best friend'
DeJesus was 14 when she vanished while walking home from school on April 2, 2004. Knight, who was 20 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen at a cousin’s house on August 23, 2002, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
‘‘She’s like my best friend. I’m glad she’s home,’’ Ricardo DeJesus, her brother told CNN, vowing to never let his sister out of his sight again.
‘‘It is a miracle by God that she came home. That’s all I can say.’’
A man who helped to look for DeJesus, Pastor Angel Arroyo, said he and her family members had handed out flyers years ago in the neighbourhood where she was found.
"We didn't search hard enough. She was right under our nose the whole time," Arroyo said.
Time to heal
Kidnap ordeal survivor Jaycee Dugard has called for the three women to be given time to adjust to freedom.
Dugard was subject to a worldwide media frenzy in 2009 when she was found alive 18 years after she was abducted as an 11-year-old girl in 1991 by a convicted sex offender.
As reporters descended on the Cleveland scene on Tuesday, Dugard issued a statement urging for the women at the centre of the latest extraordinary story to be given space to adjust.
‘‘These individuals need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world. This isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them,’’ Dugard told People magazine, while acknowledging the strength of the victims.
‘‘The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More then ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope.’’