Ohio suspects' cousin: Our family is 'shocked and stunned'
The cousin of the three men accused of holding three women and a child captive for more than a decade in Cleveland expressed her mixed emotions on TODAY Wednesday.
“This is an incredible thing to believe,’’ Maria Castro Montes told Savannah Guthrie. “We are elated, obviously that these girls have been found and that they are alive, and our hearts are filled with joy for that reason, and at the same time this family is suffering a great sadness to know that these girls have suffered at the hands of family members of ours.
“We would certainly like to say to those three young women that we are so sorry for everything that they had to endure. We want them to know that if they ever need anything, we are here for them. We certainly hope that an entire family is not judged over the actions of one person, that an entire community is not judged over the actions of one person, or that an entire race is not judged over the actions of one person.”
Montes’ cousins, Ariel Castro, 52; Onil Castro, 50; and Pedro Castro, 54, were arrested Monday after Amanda Berry kicked through the door at Ariel Castro’s home and escaped. Two other missing women, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, as well as Berry's 6-year-old daughter, were also discovered by police at Ariel’s home.
Cleveland Police Department Chief Michael McGrath told Guthrie on TODAY that a joint task force with the FBI has determined that the victims were forcibly held against their will during the period of captivity and were "very rarely'' allowed outside the home.
"We have confirmation that they were bound and that there were chains and ropes in the home,'' McGrath said. "Preliminarily, they were released out in the backyard once in a while, I believe. Their physical well being was very good considering the circumstances.''
Reports that the women underwent multiple pregnancies during their time in the home are unconfirmed, according to McGrath. The suspects are being interviewed on Wednesday after the FBI conducted a search of the home and a processing of the crime scene late Tuesday. The process of charging the suspects is expected to conclude on Wednesday.
Montes said the family had no inkling that Ariel, a former bus driver who was fired from his job last November, was allegedly holding these women at his home for more than a decade.
“They always say hindsight is 20/20,’’ she said. “If there were ever anything that anyone had ever told my father, who lives in this neighborhood, that they thought that anything was suspicious going on with his nephew or that house, no one in this entire family would’ve kept anything secret or protected them to the extent of what has transpired here. I know that his own mother, sister, siblings, his own children, would’ve never condoned or kept any of this quiet.”
One neighbor witnessed a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard a few years ago and another heard pounding on the doors and saw plastic bags over the windows, according to a report by the Associated Press. Both times, police showed up but never went in the house, neighbors said. McGrath disputed those accounts, saying the Cleveland Police Department checked its record management and communication systems and found only two calls from Ariel's home in the last two years, unrelated to the ones alleged by neighbors.
"We have no record of those calls coming in over the last 10 years,'' McGrath said. "We would have a recording of those calls. We had two calls relative to that residence over the years and one of them was from the residence relative to a fight in the street, and the other one had to do with a 4-year-old that was left on the school bus that the one suspect was driving. Other than that we had no other calls, or service, or complaints at that particular address."
In 2005, Ariel Castro’s ex-wife, Grimilda Figueroa, accused him of attacking her, according to a filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. In the filing, she claimed to have suffered two broken noses, broken ribs, a blood clot on the brain, two dislocated shoulders and a tooth that was knocked out. The case was later dropped on a technicality.
Montes said the extended family was not aware of Ariel’s alleged violent past.
“Obviously this is a story that is unfolding with the investigation that’s happening, and we as a family are just as shocked and stunned,’’ Montes said. “We’re hearing all of these things for the first time as well. There has been a distance with these cousins for some time, and it’s shocking and very hurtful and very shameful to hear all of this at this point.”
McGrath believes the police did not miss any potential opportunities to free the women from their alleged captors years earlier.
"We had a task force together, and it was a unified command between the Cleveland Police Dept. and the FBI,'' he said. "There was a lot of agents and a lot of police officers and detectives that worked very hard and continue to work very hard over the years trying to solve this case. It was part of their life."