By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Members of a community safety group are guarding the home of one of three Cleveland women held captive for a decade after their kidnapper hanged himself in his prison cell.
Guardian Angels volunteers wearing red berets stationed themselves outside the home of Gina DeJesus on Wednesday and said her family didn’t want to be bothered as the community absorbed the news of Ariel Castro’s suicide.
Officials say the 53-year-old Castro was found hanging in his cell Tuesday night. Preliminary autopsy results confirmed it was a suicide.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
Ariel Castro, 53, was found hanging in around 9:20 p.m. Tuesday at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, located south of Columbus in central Ohio, JoEllen Smith, Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman, said early Wednesday. Prison medical staff performed CPR before Castro was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 10:50 p.m.
Castro was in protective custody because of the notoriety of his case, meaning he was checked every 30 minutes, but was not on suicide watch, Smith said. She said suicide watch entails constant observation.
An autopsy early Wednesday showed the death was a suicide, and the cause of death was hanging, said Dr. Jan Gorniak, the Franklin County coroner. She said toxicology tests still would be completed in the coming weeks.
Gorniak said she couldn’t comment on the circumstances in which Castro was found.
In Castro’s old Cleveland neighborhood, Jessica Burchett, 19, said his death had short-circuited the life term called for in his plea deal.
“It does give a little bit of closure to the families and people that got affected by what he did, but at the same time he deserved to be in there for his life because of what he did to those girls,” she said.
No one answered the door Wednesday morning at the home of Castro’s mother and brother, which was depicted by relatives earlier as a gathering place for the family and has a no-trespassing sign posted.
The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. They escaped from Castro’s Cleveland home May 6, when Amanda Berry, one of the women, broke part of a door and yelled to neighbors for help.
“Help me,” she said in a 911 call. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”
The two other women were so scared of Castro that they held back initially even as police officers began to swarm the house. But quickly they realized they were free.
“You saved us! You saved us!” another of the captives, Michelle Knight, told an officer as she leaped into his arms.
Castro was arrested that evening. He had also fathered a child with Berry while she was in captivity; that girl was 6 years old when freed. A judge rejected Castro’s request to have visiting rights with his daughter.
Elation over the women’s rescue soon turned to shock as details emerged about conditions of their captivity. Investigators say they were bound with chains, repeatedly raped and deprived of food and bathroom facilities. Knight told investigators she was beaten and starved several times to force her to miscarry.
Messages left for the women’s lawyers were not immediately returned early Wednesday.
Castro was sentenced Aug. 1 to life in prison plus 1,000 years on his guilty plea to 937 counts including kidnapping and rape.
In a rambling statement, he told the judge he was not a monster but a man suffering from a pornography addiction.
“I’m not a monster. I’m sick,” Castro said at his sentencing.
Knight was the only one of the three who appeared in court at his sentencing.
“You took 11 years of my life away, and I have got it back,” she said in the hushed courtroom. “I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning.”
Castro was watched closely in the Cuyahoga County Jail in the several weeks after his arrest and before his guilty plea, with logs noting his activity every 10 minutes. He was taken off county jail suicide watch in early June after authorities determined he was not a suicide risk.
Castro’s attorneys tried unsuccessfully to have a psychological examination of Castro done at the Cuyahoga County Jail, where Castro was housed before he was turned over to state authorities following his guilty plea and conviction, his attorney, Jaye Schlachet, told The Associated Press early Wednesday. Schlachet said he could not immediately comment further.
In an interview last month after Castro’s conviction, Schlachet and attorney Craig Weintraub said their client clearly fit the profile of sociopathic disorder and that they hoped researchers would study him for clues that could be used to stop other predators.
This is the second high-profile suicide in an Ohio prison in a month.
On Aug. 4, death row inmate Billy Slagle was found hanged in his cell just days before his scheduled execution. He was condemned to death for fatally stabbing a neighbor.
Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland and Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter atHTTPS://TWITTER.COM/AWHCOLUMBUS .