The Cleveland house where three kidnapped women were raped and tortured for nearly a decade was demolished by the city Wednesday as part of a plea agreement that sent their abductor, Ariel Castro, to prison last week for life.
The demolition, which took about an hour and a half, was greeted by cheers from a group that included one of his victims, Michelle Knight, who spoke briefly before the work began and released a batch of yellow balloons to remember other kidnapping victims yet to be rescued.
“Why it was important to be here today is because no one was there for me when I was missing,” said Knight, 32, who the Cleveland police have acknowledged spending relatively little time looking for because they believed she had moved away from the area.
The two-story white house on Seymour Street, which since the women’s rescue had been fenced in, its windows and doors boarded over, had already become a draw to the curious, with motorists driving slowly past day and night, according to residents and the police.
The sentencing deal with Cuyahoga County prosecutors required Castro, 53, to plead guilty to 937 charges, including two aggravated murder charges for terminating pregnancies after raping the women. The arrangement allowed him to avoid a possible death sentence. Castro also agreed to hand over the title to the east Cleveland house — so it could be demolished — which prosecutors said they feared would have become a macabre tourist attraction.
The women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Knight — were kidnapped separately by Castro between 2002 and 2004. At the time they were abducted, Berry was 16, DeJesus was 14, and Knight was in her early 20s. They were freed in May after a neighbor heard cries for help from Castro’s house and Berry was able to kick through and crawl out of a door of the house with a child who had been fathered by Castro.
Although bulldozers made quick work of the house, Castro had turned parts of it into a veritable dungeon, in which he used 92 pounds of locks and chains to restrain the women, who were often attached to a pole in the house’s basement.
Prosecutors at Castro’s sentencing hearing displayed photographs showing an elaborate system of alarms on doors and a motorcycle helmet that Castro forced the women to wear when he raped them.
Some windows were boarded shut and door knobs removed, replaced with locks. The images showed that two rooms on the second floor, which were used by the women when they were not being restrained, contained personal items, including stuffed animals and a child’s drawings.
Officials in Cleveland have said that in addition to Castro’s house, which had been in foreclosure proceedings, that two other vacant houses on the block are also scheduled to be torn down within the next several weeks.
Officials are still exploring plans for the property, which could include a park.