US prosecutors charged a 52-year-old bus driver on Wednesday with the kidnap and rape of three young women who were imprisoned in his Cleveland home for 10 long years of torment.
One of the captives gave birth to a daughter during the decade they spent confined in Ariel Castro’s modest city home, unable to escape until Monday, when the young mother, Amanda Berry, managed to signal a neighbour.
Two of the Ohio women were joyously reunited with their families on Wednesday, while the third received treatment and police interrogated their alleged captor.
Castro is accused of raping 27-year-old Berry, 23-year-old Gina DeJesus and 32-year-old Michelle Knight, city prosecutor Victor Perez said.
He also faces four counts of kidnapping, related to DeJesus, Knight, Berry and Berry’s six-year-old daughter Jocelyn, who was born in captivity.
The women are believed to have only been allowed to leave the home briefly on two occasions, both times to go “into the garage in disguise”, deputy police chief Ed Tomba told reporters at a news conference.
“They were in that home. They don’t believe they’ve been outside of the home for the last 10 years,” he said. “They were not in one room, but they did know each other and they did know each other was there.”
He refused to comment on reports that the women had become pregnant on several occasions and had lost the babies.
Castro’s two brothers – Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50 – were also detained on Monday because they were with Ariel when he was arrested, but will not be charged in connection with the kidnapping.
“There is nothing that leads us to believe that they were involved or had any knowledge of this,” Tomba said. “We found no facts to link them to the crime.”
Tomba refused to discuss specifics of evidence discovered in the home, but earlier, city police chief Michael McGrath had said the women were “bound and there were chains and ropes in the hall”.
Berry arrived on Wednesday at her sister’s home in an SUV escorted by police motorcycles and FBI agents. The porch was bedecked with balloons and messages of support. Well-wishers – and a phalanx of news reporters – were waiting.
The crowd broke into applause when her sister Beth Serrano came out and made a brief statement thanking residents and asking for privacy.
Later, DeJesus was escorted into her family home by relatives, sheltering under a yellow hooded top but managing to give a weak wave to the supporters chanting “Gina, Gina, Gina.” Her relatives read statements on the lawn.
Her mother Nancy DeJesus advised parents to do more to protect their own children, urged local people to fully co-operate with the ongoing investigation and hailed the courage of the neighbour who helped rescue the women.
Locals have expressed shock that the young women – long feared dead – could have been held for so many years in an unassuming home belonging to a man who never raised any suspicions in the working class neighbourhood.
The three were rescued after Berry managed to alert a neighbour, Charles Ramsey, who broke down Castro’s door to free her and her daughter.
Police responded to her desperate 911 emergency call and found the other two women in the detached home, a white-sided two-story home with American and Puerto Rican flags on the porch.
Berry was last seen on April 21, 2003, when she left work at a fast food restaurant just a few blocks from her home.
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.
Some reports have questioned how the police could have missed signs of the kidnapping for so long, but the police chiefs insisted they are confident that officers had not missed any chance of an earlier rescue.