Castro, the Cleveland man sentenced last month to life in prison for holding
three women captive in his home for a decade, was found hanging in his prison
cell on Tuesday night after apparently hanging himself, officials said. He was
later declared dead at the hospital.
Mr. Castro, 53, was found hanging in his cell at the Correctional Reception
Center in Orient, Ohio, at 9:20 p.m., JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in an e-mailed statement. Mr.
Castro was housed in a cell by himself and a guard was required to check on him
every 30 minutes at staggered intervals, the statement said. He was transported
to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
It was a shocking development in a story that has held the country transfixed
since May, when neighbors discovered the women in Mr. Castro’s Cleveland home
after hearing the screams of one of them and broke through the front door.
Mr. Castro later pleaded guilty to 937 counts including rape and kidnapping.
It was not immediately clear how Mr. Castro was able to hang himself. The Ohio
Department of Corrections statement said a review of the incident was under way.
All three women were kidnapped between 2002 and 2004. All were kidnapped in the
vicinity of Mr. Castro’s home at 2207 Seymour Avenue, and all were acquaintances
of Mr. Castro’s children.
Each victim vanished seemingly without a trace. Then, in May, one of the women,
Amanda Berry, who had not been seen since she left her job at a local Burger
King on April 21, 2003, suddenly appeared at the front door of the house along
with a young child and screamed: “I need help! I need help! I have been
kidnapped for 10 years!”
Several neighbors came to her aid, kicking in the front door and calling 911.
When police arrived they discovered two other women: Gina DeJesus, who
disappeared while walking home from a city middle school in 2004, and Michelle
Knight, who vanished at age 20 in 2002.
All three had been sexually abused and confined to what was essentially a
torture chamber. The women were confined to two rooms on the second floor. Mr.
Castro had sealed the windows and covered them with thick curtains. He fed them
one meal a day and forced them to use plastic toilets in their rooms, the
authorities said. Sometimes they were chained.
Mr. Castro fathered at least one child with his victims. A six-year-old girl,
born to Ms. Berry, was rescued along with her.
All this went on while Mr. Castro lived a life that to friends, family and even
his own children appeared normal. He was friendly with neighbors and played bass
with several Latin bands. He would even attend vigils for the missing girls.
At his sentencing on Aug. 1, Mr. Castro denied that he had been violent or had
sexually abused the women. He claimed that whatever sex went on in the house was
consensual. He said that he was not evil or violent, but that he was a victim of
sexual abuse as a child and had become addicted to pornography.
“People are trying to portray me as a monster and I’m not a monster, I’m just
sick,” he said.
Three months after her rescue from a quiet house where she had been held captive
for a decade along with two other women, Michelle Knight, 31, confronted her
abductor, Ariel Castro, 53, in a courtroom here on Thursday, offering an
emotional last act to a traumatizing story.
“I cried every night, I was so alone,” said Ms. Knight, who was 21 when Mr.
Castro enticed her into his home in 2002 with the offer of a puppy for her young
son. “Days never got shorter. Days turned into nights, nights turned into days.
The years turned into eternity.”
Ms. Knight, who was held longer than the other women and was the only one who
offered a statement at Mr. Castro’s sentencing, told him: “You took 11 years of
my life away. I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning.”
A tiny woman with auburn hair, Ms. Knight let tears run freely while speaking of
how her bonds with the other kidnapped women, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus,
gave her a sliver of hope. “We said we would someday make it out alive, and we
did,” Ms. Knight said.
Mr. Castro, an unemployed bus driver, looked on without expression. Judge
Michael J. Russo of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court sentenced him to life in
prison without possibility of parole, and 1,000 years. The punishment was the
result of a plea deal between Mr. Castro and prosecutors that allowed him to
avoid a possible death sentence.
In a rambling statement of his own, Mr. Castro denied that he was violent or had
ever raped or beaten Ms. Knight or the other women. “People are trying to
portray me as a monster and I’m not a monster, I’m just sick,” he said.
The Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Timothy J. McGinty, told the court that experts
had found no indication that Mr. Castro was mentally ill, adding that his effort
to blame others, including the victims, was evidence of a lack of remorse that
merited the maximum prison sentence.
New details of how the women were abducted, imprisoned and managed to endure
emerged in a sentencing memo, and at the four-hour hearing on Thursday, which
was shown live by cable television, reflecting the worldwide attention the case
All three victims were acquaintances of Mr. Castro’s children. He attended
vigils on the anniversaries of the women’s disappearances, brought home a
“missing” poster as a trophy and showed the women television coverage of their
He kidnapped Ms. Knight when he overheard her asking for directions at a Family
Dollar store and offered her a ride, which she said she accepted because she
knew his daughter. Once inside his home on Seymour Avenue on Cleveland’s West
Side, he tied her with an extension cord and dragged her to the basement, where
he forced a motorcycle helmet over her head before raping her, said Detective
Andy Harasimchuk of the Cleveland police’s sex crimes unit.
Eight months later, in April 2003, Mr. Castro abducted Ms. Berry, then 16. He
offered her a ride to his house with the promise of meeting his daughter, whom
she knew. He chained her to a pole in the basement.
Ms. DeJesus, his third victim, was 14 when Mr. Castro enticed her into his car
in 2004 by asking for her help in finding his daughter, who was a friend of Ms.
Sheriff’s deputies displayed a model of Mr. Castro’s home that from one angle
looked as innocent as a doll house. But turned around, it was used to illustrate
a chamber of horrors. Mr. Castro sealed windows with closet doors and heavy
drapes. The women were locked in two rooms on the second floor, sometimes
restrained by chains. Mr. Castro fed them a single meal a day and forced them to
use plastic toilets in their rooms, according to the sentencing report.
He kept them “in a state of powerlessness,” prosecutors said, “through a program
of prolonged physical, sexual and psychological violence.” As punishment he
would confine them in the cold basement or the sweltering attic.
A psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Ochberg, testified that the women suffered
post-traumatic stress disorder, “the kind of trauma that you don’t escape for
years and sometimes for a lifetime.”
Ms. DeJesus and Ms. Berry, who did not appear in court, were represented by
family members who read statements on their behalf. Ms. Berry’s sister, Beth
Serrano, asked for privacy so that the 6-year-old daughter Ms. Berry delivered
in captivity, fathered by Mr. Castro, would not learn of the circumstances of
her birth in the news media.
“Amanda could not control a lot of things for a long time,” Ms. Serrano said.
“Please let her control this.”
Craig Weintraub, one of Mr. Castro’s lawyers, said that his client had lived a
“double life” for 10 years and had accepted responsibility for his crimes. Mr.
Weintraub also said that Mr. Castro has a mental illness, although that
condition had not interfered with Mr. Castro’s ability to understand the plea
agreement he signed.
For years, Mr. Castro was able to present to friends and family an outward
appearance of normalcy. He insisted that he was neither evil nor violent but
that he had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse and had become addicted to
“Most of the sex that went on in the house, and probably all of it, was
consensual,” he claimed.
Twice he said, “There was harmony in our home.”
But Judge Russo offered a sharp rebuke: “I’m not sure there’s anyone in America
who will agree with you.”
Ms. Knight, whose disappearance was not publicized because she was partly
estranged from her family, said Mr. Castro tormented her by telling her no one
cared she was missing. “After 11 years, I am finally being heard and it’s
liberating,” she said.
She told him she wanted him to endure a life sentence in prison rather than face
the death penalty. “I will live on,” she said. “You will die a little every