How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors? Ariel Castro’s Kidnappings

Ariel Castro’s Mugshot | Courtesy of Biography.com

Imagine being chained to the wall of a dirty room that wasn’t your own, being mentally tormented by a man who is widely considered to be a positive influence in the community. Imagine being impregnated by your captor, then giving birth in a kiddie-pool in the basement of the house that has become your worst nightmare. Three young women were held captive by Ariel Castro, a local school bus driver and band bassist, for over ten years.1

Ariel Castro’s house of horrors where he held captive the three young women. | Courtesy of BBC.com

Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina DeJesus were the three strong and inspiring young women that survived this nightmare. In Cleveland, Ohio, Ariel Castro captured his first victim, Michelle Knight, as she was walking home from her cousin’s home in 2002. He held her in his basement to torment and rape her, which allowed him to develop power over her. Castro then moved her upstairs in his home, where the abuses continued. Some of the early abuse that Knight endured ended in pregnancies, but Castro would beat her until she miscarried.2

The second victim, Amanda Berry, was last seen by her co-workers at Burger King the day before her seventeenth birthday in 2003. On her way home from work, she accepted a ride home from community member, Ariel Castro. However, the ultimate destination was not what she had expected. Within the time Castro held Berry captive, he impregnated her. She gave birth to her daughter, Jocelyn, in the basement of Castro’s home in a kiddie-pool with the assistance of Knight. Castro had threatened Michelle Knight’s life, insisting that if the baby didn’t survive, neither would she. So when Berry’s daughter wasn’t breathing at birth, Knight successfully performed CPR on the infant, saving her life.3

Georgina DeJesus was a friend of Castro’s daughter, a fact he used to lure her into his car. In 2004, DeJesus was walking home from school when Castro approached her and offered her a ride home. The fourteen-year-old girl recognized him and accepted the offer, little did she know that she wouldn’t be returning to her home for another nine years. The three women only had each other from 2002 until they were rescued in 2013.4

The women who Castro held captive for over ten years; Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. | Courtesy of Fox News Insider

Each woman’s nightmare began similarly as Castro had a system of abuse that he used to overpower them. This system made them fear him so much that they wouldn’t fight back or attempt to escape. One of the tactics Castro used to prevent his victim’s from escaping was that he intentionally left their doors unlocked, and then he patiently waited by the front door for them. When Castro discovered that one of them trying to escape, he violently beat them, using it as an example to the other captives as to what would happen if they chose to flee.5

Castro successfully hid his monstrosities from the community he lived in for the eleven years he held the women captive. His friends and family noticed that he didn’t have people over often, but that wasn’t abnormal for Castro. After his wife divorced him, Castro spent most of his time outside of his home, attending local concerts with bands as the bassist, and even attending searches and vigils for the women he held captive in his own home. The community had no reason to suspect that he had anything to do with the women’s disappearances. Roughly two weeks before the rescue of the women, Castro had an individual over because he was interested in purchasing their bass guitar. The man said he had no idea that there was anyone in the home other than Castro, hearing only a sound like a dog upstairs.6

Amanda Berry with daughter, Jocelyn, and her sister, Beth. | Courtesy of Daily Express

The community will never forget the day Castro made a simple mistake. On May 6, 2013, Castro left a door unlocked. The women upstairs, contemplating whether it was another one of Castro’s wicked tricks or an honest mistake, remained in their rooms. Eventually, however, Amanda Berry built up the courage to try to escape. When she discovered that it was a mistake on Castro’s end, she and her daughter headed for the door. It was the middle of the day when Berry had opened the front door and started yelling for help, her daughter at her side. Castro’s neighbors noticed the strange scene and immediately came to Berry’s aid.7

The screen door was locked from the outside so the neighbor’s kicked in a corner to free Berry and her daughter, Jocelyn. Berry then immediately called the police to get the other girls rescued from their real life nightmare. Upon the girls’ escape, the neighborhood was stunned. Throughout those eleven years, none of Castro’s surrounding neighbors had any indication or idea that three women were being held captive just a few yards away.8

Nobody knew what to think. The community felt like they had failed these three women. Ultimately, Ariel Castro plead guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping, rape, and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison without the possibility of parole. After a month in prison Castro hung himself with his bed sheets in his cell. While kidnapping is a horrific crime, it is not uncommon in the United States. In 1999, it was estimated that 11.4 children per 1,000 in the United States are reported missing. So, how well do you know your neighbors?9

  1. Phillip J. Resnick M.D. and George W. Schmedlen Ph.D., “Competency Report,” Court Psychiatric Clinic, (2013); 2-3.
  2. Biography.com Editors, “Ariel Castro Biography”, The Biography.com Website, (2014) https://www.biography.com/people/ariel-castro-21311121.
  3. Corky Siemaszko, “Michelle Knight still recovering five years after being freed from Ariel Castro,” ABC News, (2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-knight-still-recovering-5-years-after-being-freed-ariel-n870906.
  4. Melanie Eversley and Doug Stranglin, “Autopsy: Ariel Castro hanged himself in prison cell,” USA Today, (2013), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/04/ariel-castro-hung-prison/2761177/.
  5. Biography.com Editors, “Ariel Castro Biography”, The Biography.com Website, (2014) https://www.biography.com/people/ariel-castro-21311121.
  6. Corky Siemaszko, “Michelle Knight still recovering five years after being freed from Ariel Castro,” ABC News, (2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-knight-still-recovering-5-years-after-being-freed-ariel-n870906.
  7. Melanie Eversley and Doug Stranglin, “Autopsy: Ariel Castro hanged himself in prison cell,” USA Today, (2013), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/04/ariel-castro-hung-prison/2761177/.
  8. Corky Siemaszko, “Michelle Knight still recovering five years after being freed from Ariel Castro,” ABC News, (2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-knight-still-recovering-5-years-after-being-freed-ariel-n870906.
  9. Andrea Sedlak, David Finkelhor, Heather Hammer, and Dana Schultz, “National Estimates of Missing Children: An Overview,” NISMART, (2002): 5-10.

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123 Responses

  1. This was a very eye-opening article and it made me question whether not I know my neighbors and all my acquaintances in general. It is unsettling to accept that kidnappings are a common occurrence in today’s world. Although I admire Berry, DeJesus and Knight for their strength, I applaud Berry’s brave decision to leave through the open door, in spite of the risk that it may have been just another one of Castro’s tests. It was a relief to read that all three girls were able to be safely rescued and were given a second chance at life.

  2. I had never heard about this case before reading this article, and it was definitely a chilling one to read about. The kind of torture and mind games that Ariel Castro played on his victims is absolutely horrific and terrifying to think about. While this was a good topic, I think the article could have been improved with accounts of the victims after their escape and some more background information.

  3. This article reminds me of a book I had to read for civic engagement called In the Neighborhood. in one of the chapters, the author tells the story of a man who killed his wife. The wife had the opportunity to go to a neighbor for help but she didn’t because she didn’t know her neighbors that well. As social beings, we often fail to make connections with those closest to us.

  4. I enjoyed reading this article because it brought to light the serious issues that can occur behind closed doors. Ariel Castro strategically gained the trust of his community, not to become suspicious of his captives and horrendous actions. Thankfully Amanda Berry and her daughter Jocelyn were willing to make such a brave choice to escape and potentially save other girls that could have been harmed as well. I would also like to point out the shock factor at how many counts of kidnapping, rape, and aggravated assault that truly makes one wonder about those within their community. Great article!

  5. I have heard of this case before actually! I feel so sad for those girls because I’m sure they could hear people walking free outside but weren’t able to get help. Ariel Castro is disgusting and the fact that he couldn’t handle 1 month of being locked up like he locked up his captive shows how he could dish it out but not take it. To answer your question, I actually don’t know my neighbors at all! Other than the fact that they like to make steaks outside.

  6. A sadly very hard-hitting article. For too many of us the idea that something may happen to our loved ones and that we may not be able to protect them is a very real fear. The fear that those around us may not be who we’re led to believe they are and what they may be capable of is also a quite common one, for some people more than others. This is a truly frightening and harrowing story on many levels, not least of all being that some of us reading this article, myself for example, may have been too young at the time to reasonably have been exposed to such subject matter and thus didn’t even know of it before now, but if nothing else it’s possible to take solace in knowing that these poor brave women survived, were freed, and that Castro was dealt justice. Very good writing, nicely provocative topic, great work.

  7. A very interesting article. The story is absolutely astonishing. It is hard to imagine a neighbor being a kidnapper and rapist. Therefore it is always important to remain cautious. The three women have incredible strength the survive the torture and gain their freedom. To think that our communities can have such terrible criminals is saddening. All we can do is take precautions and enjoy our freedoms accordingly.

  8. This article is very informative on the realities of such atrocities that are committed by individuals in this world. It sheds light on the fact that one can never really fully know a person and that one must be cautious of trusting others. In the case of these three women, it was a local bus driver and an acquaintance to one of the girls that kidnapped and tormented them. Although the women lost 10 years of their lives being held captive, I am glad that they took a risk and were able to be rescued from such a cruel man.

  9. This article was chilling to read, it’s weird that we think we know the people we live next door to but in reality we don’t at all. I can’t imagine how his neighbors felt after finding out he had kidnapped and help hostage three women and a child. I’ve never heard of a crime like this until reading this article. It’s a very interesting story but I can’t imagine how hard it is for those women to live a normal life after being trapped for so long.

  10. Great article! Ariel Castro was a truly disgusting man and those women were so brave to have survived him. I don’t think anyone fully knows a person even if you are close to them that’s why it’s always important to remain aware and cautious of your surroundings. It’s terrifying to think that these poor girls were trapped in a suburban neighborhood and no one even realized it. I am so grateful that those poor girls and now free and got the justice they so rightfully deserved.

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