With his love for music and seemingly friendly personality, Ariel Castro was a familiar presence in his heavily Latino neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side.
Castro, 52, drove a school bus, attended neighborhood barbecues, played bass in a number of local bands and was known for the musical equipment that filled his living room, especially his beloved bass guitars.
Yet there were hints of another side to Castro, who was charged with kidnapping and rape on Wednesday in the abductions of three young women who were held captive for the past decade. The house that seemed so open to some fellow musicians was closed to other people, with locks on the basement, attic and garage. Records show that Castro was accused of beating his former wife so badly it triggered a blood clot in her brain and that he was fired from his job in November after a series of disciplinary incidents.
The seeming contradictions have left neighbors and family members shocked and perplexed at what could have gone wrong for a family that seemed so woven into the tightly knit community around it, a family that had close ties to relatives of at least one of the victims.
“I am very surprised. I never thought Ariel would do something like this. Never,” said Noemi Castro, Ariel Castro’s half sister in an interview with The Washington Post.
Castro was charged with four counts of kidnapping, which included all three captives and the daughter born to one of them while she was detained, and three counts of rape against the three women.
Castro’s brothers — Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50 — were also arrested and still in custody Wednesday, but police said they would face no immediate charges. Police said they had found no evidence the two brothers were connected to the crimes.
Ariel Castro, of Puerto Rican heritage, lived in and owned the ramshackle house on Seymour Avenue where the three women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — were rescued Monday night, along with Berry’s 6-year-old daughter.
Pedro and Onil Castro lived together a few blocks away. Little information was available about them Wednesday. Media reports said they did not have jobs and never married.
Also mysterious was the web of ties among the Castro brothers, especially Ariel Castro and the family of DeJesus, who disappeared at age 14 while walking home from school on April 2, 2004.
Roberto Diaz, a neighbor, said in a interview with The Post that Ariel Castro participated in at least one of the annual neighborhood marches to draw attention to all three missing girls. Khalid Samad, a friend of the DeJesus family, said Ariel Castro knew DeJesus’s father and helped search for her after she disappeared, the Associated Press reported. He also performed music at a fundraiser in her honor, Samad said.
DeJesus’s best friend before she disappeared, Arlene Castro, is the daughter of Ariel Castro. Arlene Castro was with DeJesus moments before she disappeared; Arlene Castro appeared on TV’s “America’s Most Wanted” in 2005 to draw attention to the case.
In her interview with The Post, Noemi Castro said that although she was not close to Ariel Castro, she had been told by other family members about “weird” signs in his life. “He didn’t let anybody in the house,” she said. “There were locks on everything. That’s a red flag.”
Ariel Castro has been accused of violence against women, according to court records. The records show he was charged in 1993 with domestic violence against his wife, Grimilda Figueroa, but a grand jury declined to indict him. The case was dropped.
In August 2005, according to records in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court, he was ordered to stay away from Figueroa and their children after he was accused of beating her so severely that he broke her nose twice, broke her ribs, dislocated both shoulders and caused a blood clot in her brain.
The petition for a protective order says he threatened to kill Figueroa and their daughters on multiple occasions. The order was rescinded three months after it was granted, for reasons that are unclear, at a hearing not attended by Figueroa’s attorney. Figueroa died last year.
Ariel Castro’s daughter Emily has also run into trouble with the law. She was sentenced in 2008 to 25 years in prison for trying to kill her 11-month-old daughter by slashing the girl’s throat four times, court records show. Emily Castro also cut her wrists with the same knife she used on her daughter, records show.
In an appeal, filed shortly after her conviction, Castro’s attorney said his client was not competent to stand trial because she has “mental health issues, including manic depression.”
Ariel Castro also ran into problems at work. Although school records show he received mostly “excellent” marks in his performance evaluations as a bus driver for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, they also show that he was fired in November after being disciplined for the fourth time in nine years. Incidents included leaving a child alone on a bus in 2004 while he went to a Wendy’s restaurant for lunch.
A Cleveland police report quoted the girl as saying that when Castro arrived at the Wendy’s, he told her, “Lay down, b----,” and left her alone. After he returned, he “drove around a while” before he returned her to her home care provider.
The fourth time Castro was disciplined, records show, was over a Sept. 20, 2012, incident in which he left his unlocked bus in front of a school for several hours.
“I left my bus parked in front of the school and walked home two blocks away,’” he wrote in the file. “I felt tired [that] day. Scranton is my school so I didn’t think anything wrong with parking there. I do appologize.”
Local musicians said Ariel Castro could be guarded about his home, wary of letting people into his world. But Tito DeJesus, a local piano player, was one of the few who stepped inside the house on Seymour Avenue.
It was a few years back, and DeJesus was dropping off tools and appliances that Castro had bought from him. “He was kind of like a hoarder,” DeJesus recalled. The living room was filled with musical equipment, he said. A lamp served as an end table. Castro’s bass guitars were on stands around the room.
The two played together in several bands, and Castro was forever gushing about some new piece of musical gear he had acquired. “He liked to show off his stuff,” DeJesus said.
And he liked to show off his playing, too. DeJesus said Castro’s style was a good match for his own. “He’s one of the top [Latin] bass players in Cleveland,” he said.
There was something else DeJesus noticed. “He never had a woman,” he said.
Edwin Nunez, a salsa band leader who performed with Castro, said Castro tended not to hang out with other musicians after gigs. “He was very private about his life,’’ Nunez said.
Roig-Franzia reported from Cleveland. Debbi Wilgoren and Alice Crites contributed to this report.
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