When Tito DeJesus stepped inside his bandmate Ariel Castro’s modest two-storey home on Seymour Avenue a few years ago, it seemed like an ordinary musician’s home. “He had his instruments laying around, almost like furniture,” Mr. DeJesus told CNN, but otherwise, “it seemed normal.”
He certainly didn’t suspect, as police allege, that three women were being held captive somewhere inside, and had been for nearly a decade.
Ariel Castro, 52, and his brothers Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, were arrested in connection with the disappearance of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, police announced Tuesday. Ariel owned the Seymour Avenue home, while his two brothers lived elsewhere in the city.
Little is known about Pedro and Onil, but details about Ariel showed his life had began to unravel in recent years.
Ariel was a bass player and performed with bands in nightclubs throughout the city, said Mr. DeJesus (who is not believed to be related to Gina). “I just know who he was to me: a fellow musician. This is a shocker,” he said. Ariel posted images of guitars he coveted on his Facebook profile, and listed his employer as a local merengue band.
But whether Ariel made a living from music is unclear. The band he affiliated himself with, Grupo Fuego, said he wasn’t a permanent member and had only performed with them a few times in the past five years. And he was fired from the full-time job he held for 21 years, as a school-bus driver, in October of last year after leaving his bus unattended at the school for four hours. Meanwhile, records show his home was in foreclosure, with Ariel owing over $2,500 in unpaid taxes dating back to 2010.
In 2004, police knocked on the Seymour Avenue home’s door after Ariel apparently left a child on the school bus when he returned to the depot. They were unable to contact Ariel, but after interviewing him later, concluded that there had been “no criminal intent.”
In 1993, Ariel had been arrested for domestic violence, although a grand jury declined to indict him. According to Cuyahoga County domestic relations court records, Ariel’s ex-wife Grimilda Figueroa said she had broken her nose twice, suffered broken ribs, a blood clot on the brain, and dislocated both shoulders from his abuse. She was given full custody of the children after the divorce.
Last month, Ariel posted the following message to Facebook: “A real woman will not use their child as a weapon to hurt the father when the relationship breaks down.”
Despite this, several residents on Seymour Avenue knew Ariel as a “good guy,” and a regular at neighbourhood parties. “He gave the kids rides up and down the street on his four-wheeler,” neighbour Juan Perez told Cleveland’s NewsChannel5.
Ariel’s son, Ariel “Anthony” Castro, 31, told WKYC-TV he didn’t know what to make of the news. “This is beyond comprehension...I’m truly stunned right now,” he said. He later told the Daily Mail that his father padlocked the doors leading to his basement, his attic and his garage and never allowed his family inside.
Aside from Anthony, Ariel had at least two other children, both daughters in their twenties.
Julio Castro, the brothers’ uncle, told CNN he was “shocked” when he heard the news. He last saw Pedro a few weeks ago, he said, but hasn’t seen Ariel or Onil for years.
But ever since news of the arrest, he said: “I never want to hear from them again.”
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha