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Cleveland man charged with 3 women’s kidnapping, rape

Gina DeJesus, one of three women held captive for about a decade at a run-down Cleveland house, gaves a thumbs-up as she was escorted toward her home.Tony Dejak/Associated Press

CLEVELAND — About the time that neighbors kicked in a front door to free three women abducted and long imprisoned, the man now charged with their kidnapping was idling away a spring afternoon at his mother’s home.

Ariel Castro, 52, had crossed the street to borrow a lawn mower Monday afternoon from a neighbor to cut his mother’s lawn, then left with a brother to spend the afternoon drinking, neighbors said.

It was typical of the outwardly mundane life Castro led, which apparently included outings with a daughter he is believed to have fathered with one of the captives. Meanwhile, inside his house on Seymour Avenue, the three women, who last celebrated birthdays with their families about a decade ago, saw year after year perversely marked by Castro’s serving of a cake on each woman’s ‘‘abduction day,’’ according to one victim’s cousin.

On Wednesday, Castro was charged with the rape and kidnapping of Amanda Berry, held 10 years; Gina DeJesus, held nine years; and Michelle Knight, held 11 years. He was also charged with kidnapping the 6-year-old daughter to whom Berry gave birth, and the authorities said he would undergo a paternity test.

In their years as prisoners, the women never left the house except for two brief visits to the garage, the police said.

‘‘What the circumstances were inside that home and the control he may have had over those girls, we don’t know,’’ Ed Tomba, a deputy chief of the Cleveland police, said in announcing the charges. ‘‘That’s going to take us a long time to figure out.’’

No charges were brought against Castro’s two brothers who were arrested with him: Onil Castro, 50, and Pedro Castro, 54. Tomba said investigators were convinced after interviewing the victims that the other brothers had no involvement or knowledge. ‘‘Ariel kept everybody at a distance,’’ Tomba said, speaking at a news conference crowded with reporters from around the world.

He declined to give details of the women’s captivity. But as two of the women, DeJesus, now 23, and Berry, 27, returned joyfully to their family’s homes, descriptions of their ordeal began to emerge. The police confirmed earlier Wednesday that chains and rope were found inside Castro’s house, and that the women were sometimes bound. A cousin of DeJesus, who disappeared in 2004 at age 14 while walking from school, said the women had been ‘‘kept in the basement like dogs.’’

The cousin, who asked not to be named to protect the family’s privacy, said relatives had spoken by speakerphone with DeJesus after she was freed. Although she asked relatives not to ask her about her captivity, she described the way Castro had marked the anniversaries of the kidnappings by serving dinner and a cake. ‘‘He would celebrate their abduction day as their new birthday,’’ the cousin said.

Neighbors of the Castro family — which owns at least two other homes in the Tremont district of Cleveland — recalled Castro visiting with a young girl they suspect was Berry’s daughter.

Nelson Martinez, 54, a cousin of Castro’s, said Castro had visited him in Parma, Ohio, with a child he introduced as his granddaughter two or three years ago.

‘‘She looked healthy and happy and looked as though she liked being with her ‘granddaddy,’ ’’ Martinez said. ‘‘She had on clean clothes, like a normal little girl, and she seemed alert and talked.’’

The disappearances of Berry, who had last been seen leaving work in her Burger King uniform in 2003, and DeJesus, who had last been seen a year later in the same neighborhood, was major news in Ohio for years. Volunteers distributed posters, and vigils were held on the anniversaries of the victims’ last sightings.

The third woman, Michelle Knight, disappeared in 2002, but because she was an adult, the authorities had suspected that she was a runaway; her case received much less attention. She remains hospitalized in the MetroHealth Medical Center.

On Wednesday the city released portions of the original missing persons reports that showed that dozens of officers were involved in the investigations of Berry and DeJesus. Authorities also knocked down accounts that have circulated this week of sightings of the women at Castro’s home, denying that the police had received calls.