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'You're afraid to talk to your neighbors': Suspects' street was perfect hiding spot

John Makely / NBC News

An FBI investigator exits the house on Seymour Ave.

CLEVELAND — It was the perfect place to hide three captives in plain sight.

In a rundown section of Cleveland, Ohio, police say three young women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — were held against their will in a white, two-story house for roughly a decade before Berry escaped Monday night and the other two were freed.

While some who lived and worked in the neighborhood described it as tight-knit, others spoke of a darker side.

Bill McNutt, 71, bought a house, gas station, and a now-abandoned block of apartments on Seymour Ave. about 40 years ago. The retired software engineer said he's seen plenty of crime in the area -- from drug deals to shootings, some in properties he rented.

He was surprised not so much by the women's captivity but by how much time transpired before they were found.

"Does it shock me?" he said. "Well, I don't know. Ten years shocks me."

The three women vanished between August 2002 and April 2004 in separate incidents; they were between 14 and 20 years old. Authorities have arrested three brothers: Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.

John Makely / NBC News

Vladimir Swirynsky, who lives just a couple of blocks away from where one of the victim's homes holds a huge sign so that drivers on 25th street could offer support for the the missing girls who were found on Monday. "We never gave up hope," he said.

The neighborhood has seen better days. The two houses to the right of the one where the women were allegedly held are boarded up and dilapidated. A three-story apartment building down the block is vacant.

"That was a perfect place for him because people couldn't hear any noise," said Khalid Samad, a community organizer.

Samad said Ariel Castro had even accompanied him on searches in the area for the missing women. He said that by the neighborhood's standards, Castro's job as a bus driver made him relatively well-off.

"In terms of money he probably made more money than anyone else on the street when he was driving the bus," Samad said.

Jennifer Faykus, 34, said she knew the sister of Gina DeJesus, who police say was held in the house after disappearing in 2004.

Faykus used to live in the area but moved away because it stopped being the kind of neighborhood where people talked to each other.

John Makely / NBC News

Julio Castro, 77, uncle to the three suspects arrested in relation to the abductions.
Castro owns a corner grocery store less than a block away from the home the girls escaped from on Seymour ave.

"In this kind of neighborhood you don't [pry into other people's business] because you're afraid to talk to your neighbors," she said.

Her husband, Felix Faykus, said they'd passed out fliers for the missing girls in the neighborhood.

Justin Owens lives behind the house police searched Tuesday, but another building stands between his home and the yard police kept cordoned off.

"Never saw no girls back there, never heard anything," he said. "It was all a shock to me."

The 34-year-old roofer moved to the neighborhood about a year ago. The first thing he thought of when he heard the news were his own daughters, ages 12 and 8.

About half a block away on Castle Ave, the residents of an old-persons home called Scranton Castle were just as surprised — including some who knew the suspects.

Johnnie Sanchez said he grew up in the neighborhood and knew the Castro family. He'd go and talk to the Castro brothers' uncle at his corner store, about half a block from the house where the women were found. Sanchez said he had known the brothers since he was 7 or 8 years old, but he hadn't seen Ariel Castro in about five years, even though he lived just a half dozen houses away.

"We used to go to parties and he would play the timbales," Sanchez, 54, said of Ariel. "The Castro family are a real good family."

John Makely / NBC News

Noel Ruiz Sr, the great uncle of Gina DeJesus, sips a Corona just down the block from the home where she had been held captive until yesterday.

At Caribe grocery store on the corner of Seymour Ave., Julio Castro, 77, who identified himself as the uncle of the suspects, said he hadn't spoken to Ariel Castro in six years and that the arrests came as a "terrible, terrible, terrible surprise."

He's owned the corner store for more than four decades, he said.

"I say, 'How can you do this to our family?'" he said he would ask his nephews. "We are a large family, a respected family. Shame on you."

Noel Ruiz Sr, a great uncle of Gina DeJesus, on Tuesday afternoon sipped a Corona beer at Castro's corner store — which he said he'd becoming to for decades — as he and about a dozen patrons watched the stream of news updates being broadcast from across 25th street.

"We used to throw parties here", Ruiz said. "Our family took a big hit when it happened, but, you know, everyone in my family believes in God ... our prayers were answered.  Thank God Gina's alive."

Additional reporting by John Makely

Tony Dejak / AP

A daring escape and a dramatic 911 call led to the rescue of three women who allegedly had been held captive for years inside a home in Cleveland, Ohio.