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Councilman: Cleveland victims were sexually abused

Caption
(Tony Dejak)
A "Welcome Home Gina " sign hangs on a fence outside the home of Gina DeJesus Tuesday, May 7, 2013, in Cleveland. DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, who went missing separately about a decade ago, were found in a home just south of downtown Cleveland and likely had been tied up during years of captivity, said police, who arrested three brothers. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND (AP) — The three women held captive for a decade at a run-down Cleveland house were subjected to prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and suffered miscarriages, a city councilman briefed on the case said Wednesday.

Councilman Brian Cummins said that many details remain unclear, including the number of pregnancies and the conditions under which the miscarriages occurred. He also said the women were kept in the basement for some time without having access to the rest of the house. Police said they were apparently bound with ropes and chains.

The horrific allegations came out as police built a case against the three brothers under arrest: Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver and owner of the house, Onil Castro, 50, and Pedro Castro, 54. Charges against them were expected to by late Wednesday afternoon.

"We know that the victims have confirmed miscarriages, but with who, how many and what conditions we don't know," Cummins said. He added: "It sounds pretty gruesome."

Two of the young women, meanwhile, were welcomed home by jubilant crowds of loved ones and neighbors with balloons and banners Wednesday. The families of Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry protectively took them inside, past hundreds of reporters and onlookers. Neither woman spoke, and their families pleaded for patience and time alone.

"Give us time and privacy to heal," said Sandra Ruiz, DeJesus' aunt. Ruiz thanked police for rescuing the women and urged the public not to retaliate against the suspects or their families.

The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported in good condition at Metro Health Medical Center, which a day earlier had reported that all three victims had been released. There was no immediate explanation from the hospital.

The Associated Press does not usually identify people who may be victims of sexual assault, but the names of the women were widely circulated by their families, friends and law enforcement authorities for years during their disappearance.

In a development that astonished and exhilarated much of Cleveland, the three women were rescued on Monday after Berry, 27, broke through a screen door at the Castro house and told a 911 dispatcher: "Help me. I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."

Law enforcement officials left many questions unanswered, including how the women were taken captive and who fathered Berry's 6-year-old daughter.

Neighbors said that Ariel Castro took part in the search for one of the missing women, helped pass out fliers, performed music at a fundraiser for her and attended a candlelight vigil, where her comforted her mother. As recently as 2005, Castro was accused of repeated acts of violence against his children's mother.

On NBC's "Today" show, Police Chief Michael McGrath said he was "absolutely" sure police did everything they could to find the women over the years. He disputed claims by neighbors that officers had been called to the house before for suspicious circumstances.

"We have no record of those calls coming in over the past 10 years," McGrath said. On Tuesday, some neighbors said that they had told police years ago about hearing pounding on the doors of the home and seeing a naked woman crawling in the yard.

DeJesus, who disappeared in 2004 and is in her early 20s, arrived home in the afternoon Wednesday to chants of "Gina! Gina!" Wearing a bright yellow hooded sweatshirt, she was led through the crowd and into the house by a woman who put her arm around the young woman's shoulders and held her tight.

Her father pumped his fist after arriving home with his daughter, and he urged people across the country to watch over the children in their neighborhoods — including other people's kids.

"Too many kids these days come up missing, and we always ask this question: How come I didn't see what happened to that kid? Why? Because we chose not to," he said

Berry arrived at her sister's home, which was similarly festooned with dozens of colorful balloons and signs, one reading "We Never Lost Hope Mandy." Hundreds cheered wildly but weren't able to get a glimpse of Berry as she went in through the back.

A 2005 domestic-violence filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court accused Ariel Castro of twice breaking the nose of his children's mother, knocking out a tooth, dislocating each shoulder and threatening to kill her and her daughters three or four times in a year.

The filing for a protective order by Grimilda Figueroa also said that Castro frequently abducted her daughters and kept them from her.

In 1993, Castro was arrested on a domestic-violence charge and spent three days in jail before he was released on bail. A grand jury did not return an indictment against him, according to court documents, which don't detail the allegations. It was unclear who brought the charge.

Meanwhile, the aunt of a 14-year-old girl who disappeared in 2007 near the house where the missing women were found said the girl's mother has spoken with the FBI.

"We're hoping for our miracle, too," said Debra Summers, who described her niece, Ashley Summers, as not the type of girl who would leave without coming back.

The FBI did not immediately return a call about the case and whether it was connected to that of the three missing women.

___

Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Jesse Washington and Mike Householder and freelance reporter John Coyne in Cleveland; Mitch Stacy in Columbus; Dan Sewell in Cincinnati; John Seewer in Toledo; and news researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

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