The apparent suicide of Ariel Castro while serving a life sentence for abducting and repeatedly torturing and sexually abusing three women for a decade will be investigated, state officials said in the latest chapter in the Cleveland tragedy that mesmerized and horrified the nation.
Castro, 53, a former bus driver who was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison as part of a plea agreement that saved him from death row, was found hanging in his cell in a state prison in Orient on Tuesday night, according to a statement emailed to reporters by JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the corrections system. Prison medical personnel administered CPR and Castro was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead about an hour after he was found.
Speaking on NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday morning, Castro's attorney Craig Weintraub said that the family was devastated by the news of the death. He said that although many people will probably wish Castro “good riddance,” the family wants a full investigation.
“We're going to get to the bottom of it. There's no way we're going to let this go,” Weintraub insisted. “This is a human being, we are in a civilized society and we expect that the person would be protected when they’re institutionalized, and so there is an obligation on the part of the prisons and I would doubt that the prison officials would dispute that. They have an obligation to ensure there wasn’t a suicide or anything else and we pray there wasn’t anything else.”
In their statement, prison officials said they were reviewing events.
"A thorough review of this incident is underway and more information can be provided as it becomes available pending the status of the investigation," Smith said.
According to prison officials, Castro was found hanging by a bedsheet in his cell at the Correctional Reception Center at 9:20 p.m. EDT.
“He was housed in protective custody which means he was in a cell by himself and rounds are required every 30 minutes at staggered intervals," Smith said in a statement. “Castro was not on a suicide watch, which would have required constant observation.”
Prison officials said Wednesday morning that the death was suicide by hanging and further details would be available later.
Castro had kidnapped three women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight between 2002 and 2004. They ranged in age from 14 to 20 years old at the time they were taken and held for about a decade in Castro’s home on Seymour Avenue.
Berry managed to break through a door on May 6 and cried out to neighbors for help. They called police, who freed the three women and Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, fathered by Castro. Castro was arrested within hours at a local fast-food eatery.
The city was euphoric about the release of the three women, but that joy was quickly tempered by outrage as details of the captivity emerged.
The women were bound with chains, repeatedly raped and deprived of food and even bathroom facilities, according to court documents and presentations in court. Knight told investigators she was beaten and starved repeatedly and forced to miscarry the pregnancy that resulted from the rapes.
Castro was sentenced Aug. 1 to life in prison plus 1,000 years after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including kidnapping and rape.
At his sentencing, he apologized for his actions and told the judge: “I'm not a monster. I'm sick.”
During the search of the house – since demolished -- investigators said they had found a suicide note and confession written by Castro. But Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty dismissed the letter as an attempt by Castro, whom he described as a “narcissist,” to feel sorry for himself.
On Wednesday, McGinty condemned Castro for choosing to kill himself.
“These degenerate molesters are cowards,” the prosecutor said in a prepared statement emailed to reporters. “They con and capture vulnerable children. This man couldn’t take, for even a month, a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade. Let this be a message to other child kidnappers: There will be a heavy price to pay when you are caught. You won’t enjoy the captive side of the bars.”
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson urged the community to concentrate on the survivors who have been rebuilding their lives.
“Our focus remains on the well-being of the survivors of Seymour Avenue,” Jackson said in a statement emailed to reporters. “It is our sincere hope that they will continue to heal and recover. I ask the community to continue to respect the privacy of the survivors so that they can move forward with their lives.”
Knight was the only one of his victims to face Castro in court.
“I spent 11 years in hell,” she told Castro at his sentencing. “Now your hell is just beginning,” she said. “I will overcome all that happened, but you’re going to face hell for eternity.”