As the possibility of the death penalty looms over Ariel Castro, the man accused of a decade-long kidnapping and rape of three women in Cleveland, Ohio, the midwestern city is still gripped by the question of how the grim goings-on inside the otherwise unremarkable house on Seymour Avenue went undetected for so long.
“I’ve never felt unsafe around here. It’s never been a problem,” Juri Ammari said, standing at the corner of Seymour and Scranton Road, just a few doors from Castro’s home. “But it seems we need some real neighbouring now. That he could hold these girls… we need to engage more with each other.”
It was a day after the horrors came to light, and Mr Ammari, who works with a group of local churches and regularly passes through the area, highlighted what he saw as a lack of “real neighbouring” numerous times during a short interview. “I’ve biked down this road so many times,” he said.
From the outside, nothing marks number 2207 apart from the other dwellings in what is a diverse, largely hispanic quarter on the west side of Cleveland. But the authorities now allege that inside Castro had been running a personal prison, keeping Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus captive and using them in “whatever self-gratifying [and] self-serving way he saw fit”, according to a prosecutor who spoke at Castro’s arraignment this week.
Ms Berry’s six-year-old daughter, who was fathered by Castro and also held in secret, escaped along with the other captives earlier this week.
Mr Ammari’s sentiments were echoed by others following the charges against Castro, and the clarification from authorities that his brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, played no part in the kidnappings and the assaults.
“I don’t feel that either blame or credit should be given to the authorities,” said Michael Rubin, who runs a music store in downtown Cleveland. While he acknowledged that perhaps “more could have been done”, he said: “It’s all about how our neighbourhoods function. No one knows what really goes on in someone else’s house.”
Ms Knight went missing in 2002, while Ms Berry and Ms DeJesus were abducted in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Castro has been charged with four counts of kidnapping related to the women and the child, and three counts of rape connected to the three women.
Speaking of the west side of the city, Mr Rubin said: “I don’t live in that part – but I’m just 10 minutes away. Everything here is 10 minutes away. I have a 25-year-old daughter, which puts her in the same age bracket as those girls when they were taken, so I was elated when they escaped. But it does raise questions for us.”
Residents seem to be viewing the case differently to the way they say they reacted when the “Cleveland strangler” Anthony Sowell’s crimes came to light some years ago. Sowell was sentenced to death in 2011 for murdering 11 women and hiding their remains around his home. Sowell’s dwelling on the east side has since been demolished.
For many, the questions over how Castro got away with his alleged crimes appear to have come into sharper focus now that his brothers have been cleared of any involvement.
A neighbour of Pedro’s has spoken in his defence, drawing a contrast with Ariel. “I know the whole family. Pedro is not the monster,” Broco Unico told the local Plain Dealer newspaper, adding: “If he [Pedro] had anything to do with it, as much as he comes around here, he’d have spilled the beans.”
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