Fri, May 10, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Former school bus driver charged over kidnappings

AP, CLEVELAND, Ohio

The former school bus driver accused of kidnapping and raping three women missing for about a decade was scheduled to make his first public appearance in court yesterday after emerging as the lone suspect.

Puerto Rican-born Ariel Castro, 52, was charged with four counts of kidnapping — covering all three captives and the daughter born to one of them while she was held — and three counts of rape against the three women. Prosecutors brought no charges against his brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, saying there was no evidence they had any part in the crime.

Councilman Brian Cummins said many details remained unclear, including the number of pregnancies and the conditions under which the miscarriages occurred. He said the women were kept in the basement for some time without having access to the rest of the house. Police said they were apparently bound with ropes and chains.

The women’s plight has riveted the US since 27-year-old Amanda Berry kicked through a screen door at the house on Monday and used a neighbor’s telephone to call authorities.

Neighbors in the largely Puerto Rican neighborhood said Ariel Castro had taken part in the search for one of the missing women, performed music at a fundraiser for her and attended a candlelight vigil, where he comforted her mother.

Two of the women were welcomed home on Wednesday by jubilant crowds. Neither Berry nor Gina DeJesus, about 23, spoke publicly, and their families pleaded for patience and time alone.

The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported in good condition at a local hospital.

All three women had apparently been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s, police said.

Law enforcement officials left many questions unanswered.

Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told a news conference that a paternity test on Ariel Castro was being done to establish who fathered Berry’s now six-year-old child.

Police Chief Michael McGrath earlier told NBC 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.

As recently as 2005, Castro was accused of repeated acts of violence against his children’s mother.

A domestic-violence court filing at the time 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.

Neighbors say Castro played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands, and gave neighborhood children rides on his motorcycle.

Juan Perez, who lives two doors down from the house, said Castro was always happy and respectful.

“He gained trust with the kids and with the parents. You can only do that if you’re nice,” Perez said.

Another neighbor, Francisco Cruz, said he was with Castro the day investigators dug up a yard looking for the girls. Castro told Cruz: “They’re not going to find anyone there,” Cruz recalled.

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