Slaying Suspect's Wife Warned of Risk to Children
Md. Courts Found Insufficient Threat

By Raymond McCaffrey, Dan Morse and Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mark Castillo drowned his three children, one by one, in the bathtub of a Baltimore hotel room and placed their naked bodies in a bed, he later told police. He swallowed 100 Motrin pills and stabbed himself in the neck repeatedly with a steak knife. Then, police said, he drifted into unconsciousness.

Castillo, 41, of Rockville, awoke 19 hours later and realized that he had botched his suicide, police said yesterday. He told investigators that he killed the children at 6 p.m. Saturday, 2 1/2 hours before the deadline to return them to his estranged wife's Silver Spring home.

A review of the events that led to the slayings shows a mother's determined but losing struggle in court to limit her children's contact with their father, who has a history of mental problems. Amy Castillo, 42, a pediatrician, once said he had told her that "the worst thing he could do to me would be to kill the children and not me." But psychologists found little indication that Castillo was an immediate threat to his children, and judges upheld his right to visit them.

"She fought with every fiber of her body to protect those kids," said June Downer, a next-door neighbor. "Whoever gave visitation rights to this man without supervision is crazy. . . . I don't think they did enough for her."

Mark Castillo was charged yesterday with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Anthony, 6, Austin, 4, and Athena, 3. Castillo was treated for superficial neck wounds and was held without bail.

About 1 p.m. Sunday, Castillo called the front desk of the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards to report that he had killed the children. According to charging documents, he told paramedics: "I know what I did was bad. I did it."

Yesterday, a family friend issued a statement saying that Amy Castillo was asking for "continued prayers during this unspeakably difficult time." Douglas Cohn, a lawyer who once represented Mark Castillo, declined to comment, and efforts to reach Mark Castillo's relatives were unsuccessful.

Amy Castillo called Montgomery County police three times between 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday, reporting that the children had not been returned to her home and that her husband had "mental health issues." Lt. Paul Starks said yesterday that police are "looking at our own actions to determine if there is anything we could have or should have done that might have prevented this tragedy."

Records in Montgomery Circuit Court in Rockville describe a relationship so troubled that the family's nanny was afraid to be at the home alone with the father. Mark Castillo, who has received diagnoses of depression and narcissistic personality disorder, was involuntarily hospitalized for a week in the summer of 2006 after a planned suicide that involved ant poison, a utility knife and duct tape.

Court documents show that Amy Castillo asked judges to halt her husband's visitations. Mark Castillo launched an aggressive defense, often acting as his own attorney.

On Christmas 2006, Amy Castillo requested a restraining order. At a hearing Jan. 10, 2007, she said her husband had told her that he "could make it difficult" for her if he lost child visitation rights, saying he "could sabotage the house if he wanted to."

After the hearing, Judge Joseph A. Dugan Jr. declined to issue a permanent order. Dugan noted that Amy Castillo said she had continued to have sex with her husband, including twice on the day he allegedly talked about killing the children. Amy Castillo testified that she had sex with her husband because she was frightened of him and was worried that if she didn't, he would "assume something was wrong" and suspect that she was trying to get a restraining order against him.

Dugan said that he found the case to be "very disturbing" but that he had "substantial difficulty" with the credibility of both Amy and Mark Castillo. "I am not satisfied," Dugan said, "that indeed there is clear and convincing evidence of abuse in this case."

In a June 2007 evaluation, Mark Hirschfeld, a Wheaton psychotherapist, wrote: "There are no reports or indications from any reliable, unbiased source indicating that any of his behaviors has placed his children at physical risk or risk of other types of significant harm. It remains clear that his children are his priority."

Judge Michael D. Mason cited Hirschfeld's report on June 27, when he denied a request by Amy Castillo to halt her husband's visitations.

An earlier evaluation, by psychologist C. David Missar, cited the June 2006 episode involving the ant poison. Missar wrote that Castillo planned to drink the poison, tape his mouth shut and stab himself with the utility knife, all to make his estranged wife "feel terrible" for taking the children. Missar said Castillo posed a low risk to his children, provided that he continued psychotherapy.

Castillo grew up in California, one of five children, and was raised primarily by their mother, according to court documents. He served in the Air Force for a time, the records say, and then worked as a mail carrier, flower shop owner and riverboat card dealer.

He met his future wife in Charleston, S.C., while traveling the country performing in gymnastics shows, according to Missar's report.

The Castillos bought a brick split-level house off University Boulevard in Silver Spring in the summer of 2001. With the arrival of the Castillos' first child, Mark Castillo became a stay-at-home father, and Amy Castillo, with her doctor's salary, supported the family, according to Downer, the next-door neighbor.

Mark Castillo recently worked part time at a state-run sports center in Laurel, where he taught gymnastics. Colleagues at the Fairland Sports and Aquatic Complex were shocked to learn that Castillo said he had drowned his children.

"Most of the employees that know him say they don't believe it," said an employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials at the center had instructed employees not to speak with the media. "He was a really, really nice guy -- a family man."

After the birth of their third child, Athena, three years ago, Mark Castillo's behavior became increasingly erratic, Downer said. He started staying out all night, taking the children to the mall in their pajamas and spending his wife's money so fast that she feared that she might lose the house, Downer said.

Amy was accustomed to playing the role of acquiescent spouse, but a friend told her, "You have to put your foot down," Downer said.

Mark Castillo moved out, reluctantly, before his daughter's first birthday. "I don't think he wanted to go," Downer said, "because he loved the kids dearly."

Amy Castillo changed the locks.

Mark Castillo began renting a basement room from Maria Galvis. He has lived with her family for the past two years. Once or twice a week, Castillo would bring the children to the Galvis home, she said.

"They were always playing," she said. "All the time, he was a wonderful father. He was never a bad father."

Galvis said she last saw Castillo leaving her Rockville house at 2 a.m. Friday. She recalled being surprised that he was up so late. She does not know where he went. She said she cannot accept what police say he later did.

"I don't believe that this is Mr. Mark," she said.

Staff writers Katherine Shaver and Elissa Silverman and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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