September 6, 2013

Ariel Castro’s family prepares to claim his body

Rachel Brown

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The family of Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro planned to claim his body Thursday as investigations sought to determine how a man who was perhaps Ohio’s most notorious prisoner managed to hang himself with a bedsheet while in protective custody.

Castro was a month into his life sentence for holding three women captive in his home for a decade when he committed suicide Tuesday night.

Two reviews ordered Wednesday by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr were underway, prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. One inquiry will look into the suicide itself, and the other is examining whether Castro received proper medical and mental health care leading up the suicide.

A representative of Castro’s family was expected to claim his body Thursday, the Franklin County coroner said.

Castro, 53, had been taken off suicide watch while in county jail and was in protective custody in prison, which involves checks every 30 minutes.

He had been sentenced Aug. 1 to life in prison plus 1,000 years after pleading guilty to 937 counts, including kidnapping and rape, in a deal to avoid the death penalty. “I’m not a monster. I’m sick,” he told the judge at sentencing.

Castro’s captives — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20. They were rescued from Castro’s run-down house May 6 when Berry broke through a screen door.

Elation over the women’s rescue turned to shock as details emerged about their captivity. Castro fathered a child with Berry while she was being held. The girl was 6 when she was freed.

Investigators said the women were bound, repeatedly raped and deprived of food and bathroom facilities.

Berry’s cousin Tina Miller said Thursday the suicide showed Castro was not as strong as the three women he kidnapped, raped and imprisoned.

“Killing yourself, that’s not strength. Surviving it is strength, and that’s what them girls did — they survived it for 11, 10 and 9 years,” said Miller, of Lorain in northeast Ohio.

Tito DeJesus, who knew Castro for two decades and often played in bands with him, said he wasn’t shocked by the suicide, especially given Castro’s reference to taking his life in a 2004 note police found when they searched the house.

“It was either he killed himself or somebody was going to do it,” DeJesus, 39, of Cleveland, said Thursday. “He wasn’t going to last long in prison.”

Tito DeJesus said he is not a direct relation to Gina DeJesus.

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Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus and Tom Sheeran in Cleveland contributed to this report.