“Hello, Help me, I’m Amanda Berry. I have been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years, and I’m free now. I need the police before he gets back.“
This was the call the 9-1-1 operator received on May 6th, 2013 and this wasn’t something they heard every day. It was Amanda Berry asking for immediate help from the police. The fear, the panic could be heard in her voice, “Who is the guy you’re trying — who’s the guy who went out ?“, the operator asked, to which Amanda replied, “His name is Ariel Castro“.
On the same day, not long after the terrifying 9-1-1 call, three women were rescued from a house in Cleveland, Ohio. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have been missing for 11 years. What happened to them had been a mystery and the police investigation had been far stretched than ordinary.
Incredibly, the three women have been held prisoner for 11 years in the same neighborhood where they disappeared from, by a 52-year-old man named Ariel Castro. The women were kept imprisoned and had been held at 2207 Seymour Avenue, a street just like any other in Clevland’s working-class Westside, where they were physically, mentally, and sexually abused by Castro.
During this time of captivity, Castro fathered a child with Amanda Berry and all the three women had lived in fear, unable to escape from their suburban prison.
What makes this case more intriguing than any other ordinary case is the fact that Ariel Castro wasn’t any creepy guy or someone from whom one would be afraid. In fact, Castro was famous among the neighbors and the community. He blended in well, talked to his neighbors, and would play with the kids. He would flirt with the girls in a way that they have a crush on him. He had a charm, Castro was someone who would stop to help someone on the road with a flat tire.
The fascination in the case is the part that neighbors cannot believe that they were bamboozled, it is the banality of evil people who do evil things, despicable things, and would look just like any other ordinary man in your neighborhood. One could imagine the kind of mind Castro had by knowing about how he had the audacity to show up at the vigil held for 2 of the missing girls.
While the candlelight vigil was held for the young girls, Castro was among the first ones there to lead, asked everyone to hold hands, and even led the prayers. This wasn’t ordinary, those gathered there were the close friends and family of the girls who were prisoner in the basement of this man’s house, and there he was, wishing them well, having fundraisers, giving hugs, shaking hands. At some point, while riding his motorcycle he stopped to talk to Gina DeJesus’s mom who was handling flyer about the disappearance of her daughter. He took one of the flyers from her, asked if there is any information about Gina’s. Later he came home and gave the flyer to Gina, telling her all about the incident, this was obviously the height of cruelty.
Ariel Castro — I’m not a monster, I’m just sick
This was the line Castro used in the court in front of the judge after pleading guilty of the charges on him. There are in fact a letter written by Castro back in 2004 that was found by the FBI, which said: “I’m a sexual predator, I need help!“. Some more extract from the letter revealed that he had remorse of what he had been doing to the 3 girls.
Born in Puerto Rico, Ariel Castro moved to Ohio. As a young child, his love of music became a key part of his identity. He was famous and everybody knew him because he used to play music at the community events which everyone loved. Castro bought the modest two story home on Seymour Avenue in 1992 while working as a school bus driver in Cleveland.
Over the next 20 years, he became familiar and often popular in the community. Everybody around knew Castro and the fact that he would eat ribs with neighbors, play with the kids, help others and his charm would never make anyone believe that the man behind the closed doors had a dark side.
Castro had several run-ins with the law over alleged domestic violence towards his ex-partner with whom he had three daughters and a son from 1981 to 1990. Eventually, after numerous complaints, Grimilda Figueroa left Castro and won custody of their children. The breakup of his family probably snapped something deeper within Castro’s personality.
Although the letter found at Castro’s home by the FBI revealed his mixed feelings of remorse and cruelty at the same time. One of the extracts from the letter said: “They are here against their will because they made a mistake of getting in a car with a total stranger“.
Obviously Castro was trying to blame other people for what he did, in this case, the girls for getting into a car with so called “total stranger”. While this was clearly not true because one of the victims Gina DeJesus was a close friend to Castro’s daughter.
The Ariel Castro Kidnapping
The extent of the horror of these three girls’ ordeal began to emerge after police searched Castro’s house. This wasn’t kind of kidnapping where the victims were snatched and bundled into the back of the car. The three young women were kidnapped in daylight and were kept captive under the nose of the same neighborhood. Castro didn’t just woke up one day to start abducting these women, he spent quite a bit of time and planning on who he would target and spent quite a bit of time driving around waiting for the right moment.
Kidnapping of Michelle Knight
The first girl to disappear was 21 years old Michelle Knight. She was last seen on 23 August 2002 at her cousin’s house on 106 street of Loraine Avenue. Michelle had a troubled life only a year before her abduction, she had been raped at school and then given birth to a boy who was then placed in foster care.
Michelle Knight was older but her own family says that she has a mental disability that makes here confused about her surroundings. Perhaps her disability was that she was too trusting. Michelle was upset about loosing the custody of her child, and on the day of her kidnapping by Castro, she was scheduled to appear in court in the case of her child.
Her disappearance didn’t alarmed anyone as she was an adult and her family believed she left town voluntarily due to loosing custody of her son.
Kidnapping of Amanda Berry
Eight months later after the disappearance of Michelle Knight, on April 21 2003, Amanda Berry disappeared just a day before her 17th birthday. Castro saw her moving out of Burger King where she worked. Amanda then called her friend for a ride who didn’t answer.
Amanda started walking and that was the time Castro pulled up near her in his car and asked: “Hey, do you need a ride, you know, my son works at Burger King where you work at.“. This probably put her guard up and now made her feel comfortable, she then texted her family not to worry and she has a ride, yet she never got home.
Castro lured Berry inside his home just like he did with Michelle Knight, and that was the time Berry knew he wasn’t going to let her out, she then found Knight inside his house and realized what was about to happen to her.
Whereas the disappearance of Michelle Knight had about almost no alarm raised, Amanda Berry’s case drew a lot more attention. It is highly unusual for a young teenager to not go home, knowing the next day is her birthday.
Kidnapping of Gina DeJesus
In 2004, 14-year-old Gina DeJesus, a friend of Ariel Castro’s daughter vanished as she walked home from Wilbur Wright Middle school. It was immediately linked to the story of Amanda Berry. Interestingly, Arlene, Castro’s daughter was the last person DeJesus seen before her disappearance.
Castro utilized the friendship of his daughter with Gina and approached her when she was walking. She felt very comfortable because obviously here was the father of one of her best friends. The dad of her friend apparently asked her for a ride, that’s just chilling because she wants to trust this man who was going to do all sorts of evil to her.
The disappearance of Amanda and then Gina only a year later sent shock waves through the community. Two teenage girls, vanished almost from the same exact spot and that started to send chills and shivers throughout the city.
The extent of terror of the captivity
The only person other than the three victims who witnessed the terror in that house was Ariel Castro himself and yet too many of his friends and neighbors never had any sign that he was capable of such actions.
The life of the three women was no less than hell. The first victim, Michelle Knight remembered how he tied her legs and hands together and left her for nearly three days without food.
Amanda wrote a diary during her captive, which tells to terror and the dreadful life the three women spent. Regular physical, mental and sexual abuse was like an everyday thing for them, with their dreams of living with freedom shattered and no hopes of escaping and being reunited with their family. They were threatened to be killed at times as well.
Amanda Berry later told reporters how Castro would keep the doors partially unlocked and unsecured to “test them” after he leaves the house, and as soon as any of them peek out to see if he is really gone, he would show up and beat them. He created enough fear among them that they would not try to escape or ask for help from anybody from outside.
After the police were investigating Castro’s home, they found a chain that had been passed through a hole in the wall between two of the rooms. The single-chain was used to tie up Amanda and Gina together in the upstairs bedrooms. Being chained like a prisoner of war, forced to use plastic toilets and being fed only one meal a day become the daily part of their life. They were also not allowed to have a shower more than twice a week.
During their captive, Knight was impregnated around five times, and Castro induced miscarriages by beating her with dumbbells, slamming her against the wall, starving her and sometimes punching her. In fact, she was beaten up at so much extent during these 11 years, that she required a facial reconstruction surgery and partially lost her hearing in one ear.
Although nobody could have believed how dark things were behind those walls and how evil Castro could be, and at one point, Castro killed a dog kept by Knight as a pet, by snapping its neck because it bit Castro while trying to protect Knight from him.
Berry was also impregnated by Castro, but didn’t suffered a miscarriage. Castro wanted the baby to be born and on Christmas of 2006, Berry gave birth to a girl which happened in a inflatable swimming pool during which Castro threatened to kill Knight if she failed to assist properly and the baby didn’t survive. Amanda Berry gave birth to a baby girl, which Castro took care of and occasionally took her out as well.
He would tell his family that she is his girlfriend’s kid from her previous relationship, and told others that the little girl is his granddaughter. Berry later told reporters how she built a little kindergarten in one of the bedrooms for her girl and became her teacher as well. Only she was allowed to go downstairs in roam freely around the house unlike Berry, Knight, and DeJesus.
At one point Castro even talked about Amanda Berry to his adult son Anthony who was a reporter. Anthony said Castro that he believe Berry was likely dead to which Castro responded: “Really, do you think so ?”.
The three woman never believed to escape the house nor had enough courage of doing so. With alarm setup on doors that would help Castro to know if someone tried breaking in, seeking help to escape the house could have been a bad idea for the victims, at least this is what they believed.
On May 6, 2013, Berry’s daughter went downstairs and came back asking her “Where is daddy?”. Amanda told her that he might have gone out, to which she replied “but daddy’s blue car is not here”. Berry went downstairs and found the “big inside door” to be unlocked, but the exterior storm door was bolted. Berry thought this to be just one of Castro’s tests, she hesitated to leave but she eventually ended up taking her chances to rather escape not caring about the consequences.
Amanda started banging the door, filled with fear and panic, she realized she was at the front door and that she might be able to get out even though the front door was long. She started yelling for help and some neighbors across the street heard her. One of the neighbors that heard Amanda’s cries for help was Angel Garcia who lived opposite Castro’s house on Seymour Avenue. Soon the neighbor arrived near Castro’s house and asked Amanda what was wrong, to which she asked them to call 911.
Charles Ramsey, one of the neighbor who came to help Berry kicked a hole through bottom door from which Berry crawled out, carrying her daughter. She bolted to a neighbor’s house to call 911, and the police were there in no time.
One of the responding officer later told that they entered Castro’s house with their guns drawn announcing themselves as the police. As soon as they went upstairs, Knight entered the hallway and leaped into an officer’s arm crying and repeatedly saying “you saved us”. All the three women and the child were then taken to the hospital from where Berry and DeJesus were discharged the next day, Knight was released after 4 days at the hospital.
Arrest and the aftermath
On the same day, Castro was arrested along with 2 of his brothers, who were later taken into custody and then released later since they had no involvement in the kidnapping.
Castro pleaded guilty to a total of 937 criminal counts of rape, kidnapping, aggravated murder, attempted murder, and assault. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years without parole. Castro also forfeited his assets which included his house, which was to be demolished.
Before the sentencing, Castro spoke for around 35 minutes during which he said: “he wasn’t a monster” and was sick. He said to be addicted to sex and pornography and even claimed that he never has beaten or tortured the women, and most of the time the sex he had with them was consensual. A number of times he shifted between apologizing and blaming the victims for getting in a car with a “total stranger”, he also blamed the FBI for failing to catch him. In the end, he apologized to the victims and said that “he hopes they can find in their heart to forgive him” because he believed they had a lot of harmony in that house.
After around 1 months of the sentencing, Castro committed suicide by hanging inside his prison cell using a bed sheet.
The three of the women received financial help from The Cleveland Courage Fund, which had initially collected around $1.05 million. Amanda Berry’s grandfather also promised to give her a classic Chevrolet Monte Carlo from the same year as her date of birth, he kept the car which required restoration, but there were several auto-repair shops that offered a free restoration for it.
Knight married in 2016 and wished to open a restaurant with hopes to adopt children. Berry and DeJesus received honorary diplomas in 2015, and Berry later was employed by WJW (Fox 8) in Cleaveland, where she hosted cases covering the reports of missing people.
It is the banality of the evil people who do evil things, despicable things, living among us looking like just you and me, and just like in case of Ariel Castro, nothing suspicious ever happens. Yet they do such evil under the nose of the people who know them well.