It was a modest house on a modest street in a modest Cleveland neighborhood. But behind its doors unspeakable horrors of sexual abuse, beatings and torture were inflicted by Ariel Castro on three women for a decade.
On Wednesday, it was reduced to rubble.
“This house represented evil incarnate, which is Ariel Castro,” Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said to reporters. “Now, it is gone.”
It took less than 90 minutes to turn Castro’s 2207 Seymour Ave. home into a heap of debris. Castro forfeited the house as part of a plea agreement that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life but spared him the death penalty.
One of the first blows was delivered by Peggy Arida, the aunt of one of the victims, Gina DeJesus. DeJesus, along with Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, were kidnapped and held prisoner in the house where they were repeatedly raped, chained to poles in the basement and abused by Castro. Berry has a 6-year-old daughter by Castro as a result of her repeated rapes.
On Wednesday, an excavator bit into the area known as the pink room on the house’s upper floor as Christmas decorations and a red laundry hamper spilled onto the street, according to television images from the scene. The crowd cheered at the beginning and church bells sounded through the working-class neighborhood at the end of the demolition.
Michelle Knight appeared at the house just before the demolition began at about 7:20 a.m. local time. Knight, who had spoken eloquently about regaining her life when she appeared at Castro’s sentencing last week, handed out yellow balloons, one of the symbols of the three women’s escape and return to freedom.
“I feel very liberated and went to thank everyone for their help during the difficult return from captivity," she said. She also urged anyone who was seeking a missing child not to lose hope.
McGinty said the two houses nearest Castro's were also being torn down and the property would be developed into a park, or whatever the area's residents decide.
Prosecutors said Castro cried when he signed over the house deed and mentioned his “many happy memories” there with the women, a refrain he had uttered in open court as part of his rambling attempt to explain how he could have done what he said he did.
Castro’s son, Anthony, and other family members went to the house Monday and picked up personal items including old photographs, guitars and bicycles. Relatives said the house razing was part of the healing process for them as well.
“It's sad and hard but it is necessary for us to move on,” Anthony Castro told WKYC-TV.
At a televised news conference with Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, McGinty thanked everyone involved in prosecuting the 53-year-old Castro. FitzGerald was also upbeat about how the women and their families have been dealing with their re-entry.
“Nothing I can say … is as eloquent as the expression on the faces of family members of the victims,” FitzGerald said.
“This neighborhood has seen better days,” FitzGerald said later. “A lot of brighter days are coming.”
The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Each had accepted a ride from Castro.
They escaped on May 6, when Berry, now 27, broke through a door and yelled for help.
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