Police describe the modest two-storey home on Seymour as a house of horrors: where windows were left boarded up and three missing women held captive for almost a decade. But neighbours and family of the man who lived inside of the house recall a “nice guy” who was friendly with neighbourhood kids and regularly gave them rides up and down the street on his four-wheeler.
Ariel Castro, 52, the owner of the Seymour Avenue house, and his two brothers Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, were arrested in connection with the disappearance of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, Cleveland police announced in a press conference Tuesday.
Little is known about Pedro and Onil, but by Tuesday morning, family members and neighbours had begun to paint a picture of the middle brother, Ariel, as the father of a grown son with a passion for cars and salsa music.
Ariel is a former school bus driver for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. According to the city’s Director for Public Safety Martin Flask, police were called in 2004 after he apparently inadvertently left a child on the bus when he returned to the depot. Children and Family Services notified police, who knocked on his Seymour Avenue home door. Police were “unsuccessful” at contacting Ariel at the time, and after interviewing him later, concluded that there had been “no criminal intent.”
His 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. Anthony was a journalism student at Bowling Green State University when he wrote an article for the Cleveland Plain Press on Ms. DeJesus’ disappearance.
“Almost everyone feels a connection with the family, and Gina’s disappearance has the whole area talking,” he wrote at the time.
Juan Perez, a neighbour, told USA Today that Ariel was an outgoing man who would frequent backyard parties or barbecues on the street. He was also friendly with neighbourhood kids, Mr. Perez said, offering them rides on his four-wheeler.
Neighbour Charles Ramsey, who initially assisted Ms. Berry in her escape after hearing her calls for help, said he used to barbecue with Ariel and they would listen to salsa music together. “He just comes up to his backyard, plays with the dogs, tinkers with the cars, motorcycles, then goes back in the house,” Mr. Ramsey told reporters. “He’s somebody you look, then you look away because he’s not doing nothing but the average stuff.”
It’s not clear when Ariel stopped working as a bus driver, but records show that his home is currently in foreclosure.
Julio Castro, uncle to the three brothers, told CNN he was shocked when he learned of his nephews’ arrests.
He said their father – his brother – had died in 2004, and wasn’t sure whether their mother was still alive.
“I know that two of them, Pedro and Onil, used to drink a lot. I don’t know if they still do,” he said. But Ariel, he added, wasn’t much of a drinker.
Julio last saw Pedro a few weeks ago, he said, but hasn’t seen his other two nephews for years.
But ever since news of the arrest, he said: “I never want to hear from them again.”