Neighbor feels ‘fooled’ by Cleveland abduction suspect
(CNN) — Who is Ariel Castro?
Is he the affable guy who would wave to neighbors, talk with them about his Harley and the little girl he sometimes walked with? Is he a longtime bus driver who’d sometimes eat ribs with neighbors on the porch of his two-story home while listening to salsa music? Is he an upbeat man who loved music, impressing his bandmates with his talent and smile?
Or is Ariel Castro a cold-hearted abductor?
His Cleveland neighbors are trying to come with grips with the two personas — the first, the Ariel Castro they thought they knew, the other, the one that authorities describe.
Police say Castro held three young women against their will for years in his home. Their captivity ended on Monday, when Amanda Berry — who had been missing for a decade — attracted the attention of a neighbor, who helped her, Georgina “Gina” DeJesus and Michelle Knight escape. A 6-year-old girl that police said is believed to be Berry’s daughter also was freed.
A short time later, the 52-year-old Ariel Castro was arrested as were two of his brothers, Pedro and Onil Castro.
All three spent Tuesday night behind bars, awaiting charges in the abductions.
At the same time, Castro’s neighbors were asking themselves not only who this man was but also whether they could have done anything to stop the horrors he is accused of.
One of them, Daniel Marti, has known Ariel Castro since junior high school and lived near him for about 22 years. He thought Castro was an “outgoing person, very nice guy.”
But looking back — like many of his neighbors — Marti can’t shake a few things. Like how Castro always seemed to lead him away from his house when they talked. Or how Castro would go to McDonald’s most everyday and bring back bags of food, all for a bachelor who everyone believed lived alone. Or about the child Castro sometimes went out with, brought back home, only to head out later without the girl, whom he’d left behind.
“So really he was fooling us,” Marti said, convinced that Castro isn’t the nice neighbor he’d thought. “He made a fool out of all of us.”
Talked of children, grandchildren
Born in Puerto Rico, Ariel Castro moved to Ohio as a child, his uncle Julio Castro said.
About two decades ago, Marti recalled that Castro went through a messy breakup. In 1993, court records show that he was arrested on a domestic violence charge, which was later dropped.
Castro seemed to live alone after that, except for occasional visits by, among others, his two brothers.
The man who helped rescue Berry, Charles Ramsey, told reporters the suspect wasn’t known around the neighborhood for anything exciting.
“We see this dude every day. I’ve been here a year. I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and listen to salsa music,” Ramsey said.
Ariel Castro claimed that he had children, once dropping out of a gig claiming he had to help one move, said Tito DeJesus, a former bandmate who is not related to Georgina DeJesus but who knows her family.
He also had grandchildren — at least five, he’d recently noted on Facebook.
A recent post on his Facebook page states, “Miracles really do happen. God is good.”
Then there was the small child that Marti and others sometimes saw him with.
A neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he saw Castro at the park Sunday with a little girl and asked who she was.
“He said it was his girlfriend’s daughter,” Lugo told CNN. Police have not said if this girl was the same one who escaped with Berry from the house.
A musician and bus driver
Careerwise, Castro spent years as a bus driver, sometimes parking his bus outside his house for 45 minutes to an hour. But he lost that job in October 2012.
Documents from his disciplinary file — obtained Tuesday by CNN from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District — show that his firing followed four examples of what school officials called a “lack of judgment.” They include leaving a child on a bus, making an illegal U-turn in rush hour traffic with a busload of students and using his bus to do grocery shopping.
Others knew Castro not as a neighbor or a bus driver, but as a musician.
Tito DeJesus, for example, described his former bandmate as a man who was a “great talent musically” and was often in high spirits, “always joking around, smiling, laughing.”
About two years ago, DeJesus said he sold Castro a washer, dryer and other items and helped move them to his house.
His impressions of Castro’s home were that it seemed “simple” and “normal,” with nothing out of place beyond the instruments lying around suggesting a musician lived there.
“There was nothing that caught my eye,” said DeJesus.
The former bandmate said, for all the years he knew him, he and Castro talked music but not much more.
“I’ve always known him to be a person who’d been alone,” DeJesus said. “I never pried into his personal life.”
Some neighbors suspicious
But is there anything that could, or should, have tipped neighbors and police off that Castro was hiding something?
It’s not as if he had ever been convicted of any crime. Neither firefighters nor ambulances were called to his house, police say, and there were no building code violations or complaints.
Authorities say they went to his house twice. The first time was in 2000, when Ariel Castro himself called to report a fight outside. Four years later, police came to follow up on a report that he had left a child on his school bus at the depot. They found no criminal intent, Deputy Chief Ed Tomba of the Cleveland Police Department said.
One neighbor, Nina Samoylicz, said that one night two years ago, she and some friends saw a naked woman in Castro’s backyard. They tried to speak to her, and a man told the woman to get down, she said.
Samoylicz said she called police but said they weren’t taken seriously, and Castro erected tarps in his backyard a week or two later. But Sgt. Sammy Morris — a police spokesman — denied to CNN on Tuesday that any such call about a naked woman was made.
Neighbor Lugo said he heard yelling in the house in November 2011.
But Marti, who said he was always outside, didn’t hear anything, not even a “pin drop around the house” in the decades he lived near Castro.
Reflecting back, though, Marti said Castro would start walking toward the street or the front of his house — away from earshot of the young women — when they talked.
“Now that I think of it, he didn’t want nobody back there.”
Neighbor: ‘Breaks my heart that I could have done anything’
While some characterized Castro as upbeat and outgoing, his uncle described him as withdrawn.
The uncle, Julio Castro, said Ariel isolated himself from his extended family after his father died in 2004. The uncle lives just half a block from the house where the women were rescued but had not spoken to Ariel in years.
On Monday, he saw a commotion down the street and walked over there, where police told him about the rescue.
His first thought was that it was impossible that his nephew had anything to do with it. But, Julio Castro told CNN en Español, “perhaps, he was the type of person who was living two lives.”
Marti also suspects, now, that there may have been more to Ariel Castro than what he’d believed.
As someone with grandchildren himself, who prided himself in being a good neighbor who watched out for others, Marti said that it hurts that he didn’t notice the signs and act to help those three young women.
One of them, Georgina DeJesus, is the daughter of a friend he’s known since the 1970s. For years, Marti said he prayed for her — and finally his prayers were answered, just not how he ever envisioned.
“It breaks my heart that I couldn’t have done anything for them girls,” Marti said.