He was friends with the father of Gina DeJesus, one of the missing women, and helped search for her after she disappeared, said Khalid Samad, a friend of the family.
“When we went out to look for Gina, he helped pass out fliers,” said Samad, a community activist who was at the hospital with DeJesus and her family on Monday night. “You know, he was friends with the family.”
Antony Quiros said he was at the vigil about a year ago and saw Castro comforting Gina DeJesus’ mother.
One neighbor, Francisco Cruz, said he was with Castro the day investigators dug up a yard looking for the girls.
Castro told Cruz, “They’re not going to find anyone there,” Cruz recalled.
Cleveland officials said an internal review of police communications records found that officers went to the house twice since 2000 on unrelated calls.
“Media reports of multiple calls to the Cleveland Police reporting suspicious activity and the mistreatment of women at 2207 Seymour are false,” city spokeswoman Maureen Harper said in a statement.
Two neighbors said they called police to the Castro house on separate occasions.
Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard several years ago and called police. “But they didn’t take it seriously,” she said.
Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of the house in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. “They walked to side of the house and then left,” he said.
“Everyone in the neighborhood did what they had to do,” said Lupe Collins, who is close to relatives of the women. “The police didn’t do their job.”
Police did go to the house twice in the past 15 years, but not in connection with the women’s disappearance, officials said.
Michelle Knight’s mother, Barbara Knight, told the “Today” show that she hasn’t seen her daughter yet, but hopes she knows she loves and missed her. She said they had a tense relationship before Michelle’s disappearance and at the time thought her daughter maybe just didn’t want to see her family anymore. She said Michelle Knight’s child had been removed from the home just before her disappearance, and thought perhaps she had vanished because she was upset about “the baby.”
“I know she’s probably angry at the world because she probably thought she’d never be found,” she said.
Knight added that she hopes their past tension can heal, and she wants to take her daughter back to Florida, where she now lives.
In 1993, Castro was arrested two days after Christmas on a domestic-violence charge and spent three days in jail before he was released on bond. The case was presented to a grand jury, but no indictment was returned, according to court documents, which don’t detail the allegations. It’s unclear who brought the charge against Castro, who was living at the home from which the women escaped Monday.
Four years ago, in another poverty-stricken part of town, police were heavily criticized following the discovery of 11 women’s bodies in the home and backyard of Anthony Sowell, who was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
The families of Sowell’s victims accused police of failing to properly investigate the disappearances because most of the women were addicted to drugs and poor. For months, the stench of death hung over the house, but it was blamed on a sausage factory next door.
Following public outrage over the killings, a panel formed by the mayor recommended an overhaul of the city’s handling of missing-person and sex crime investigations.
Many of the women’s loved ones and friends had held out hope of seeing them again,
For years, Berry’s mother kept her room exactly as it was, said Tina Miller, a cousin. When magazines addressed to Berry arrived, they were piled in the room alongside presents for birthdays and Christmases she missed. Berry’s mother died in 2006.
Just over a month ago, Miller attended a vigil marking the 10th anniversary of Berry’s disappearance.
Over the past decade or so, investigators twice dug up backyards looking for Berry and continued to receive tips about her and DeJesus every few months, even in recent years. The disappearance of the two girls was profiled on TV’s “America’s Most Wanted” in 2005. Few leads ever came in about Knight.
Knight vanished at age 20 in 2002. Berry disappeared at 16 in 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. About a year later, DeJesus vanished.
Jessica Aponce, 24, said she walked home with DeJesus the day the teenager disappeared.
“She called her mom and told her mom she was on her way home and that’s the last time I seen her,” Aponce said. “I just can’t wait to see her. I’m just so happy she’s alive. It’s been so many years that everybody thinking she was dead.”
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CEO, John Ryan, said Berry, DeJesus and Knight likely would be honored by his group.
“I think they’re going to be at the top of the list,” he said.