The Cleveland, Ohio house where Ariel Castro held three women captive for a decade was torn down today, as spectators applauded and one of his victims looked on.
Castro, 53, was sentenced last week to life plus 1,000 years in prison, for an array of crimes including kidnapping and rape. The house was destroyed as part of a plea deal to spare him the death penalty, though prosecutors said Castro cried as he signed over the deed to his home, recalling the "many happy memories" it contained.
Before it was levelled, Castro's son Anthony and other family members removed some personal items from the house, including guitars and bicycles. Michelle Knight, the first of the three women to be kidnapped, handed out yellow balloons to those who had gathered on Seymour Avenue to watch the demolition. The crowd released the balloons into the air as the work began.
Though the other two women were not present, Gina DeJesus's aunt manned the controls of the crane as it took its first swipe at the house. Peggy Arida said she agreed to begin the demolition, "because I had so much anger inside me… It felt great. It felt like a house of horrors coming down."
Google Earth had blurred out the satellite image of the property, while the local company that carried out the demolition at no cost said it had taken steps to deter people from collecting rubble or souvenirs to sell afterward. The house had become a magnet for visitors since 6 May, when the women escaped after Amanda Berry broke part of the front door and called to neighbours for help. It was kept under 24-hour police guard after a series of arson threats. Castro had abducted Berry, 27, Knight, 32 and DeJesus,23, from the streets of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004.
Two more houses alongside Castro's are also being torn down, and residents will have a say in what replaces them. Knight has reportedly suggested she would like to see a park with a statue of an angel in the spot. She told those present at the demolition that she now plans to use her experiences for good, by becoming a motivational speaker. "I feel very liberated that people think of me as a hero and a role model and I would love to continue being that," she said.