(CLEVELAND, OHIO) A baby delivered on Christmas Day by a captive under threat of death, multiple miscarriages, repeated rapes and savage beatings – all took place over a decade within the walls of an American home.
Just days after three women and a six-year-old girl were rescued from Ariel Castro's house on Seymour Avenue in working class west Cleveland, horrifying allegations are emerging about the 10 years they spent as his prisoners.
On Monday, he finally let his guard down, forgetting to padlock a heavy door before leaving to eat at a McDonald's, according to an initial police report leaked to several local media outlets.
This mug shot courtesy of Cuyahoga County Jail shows suspect Ariel Castro, 52, in Cleveland, Ohio. The unemployed American bus driver was ordered held on a US$8 million (S$9.9 million) bond on 9 May 2013, on charges he kidnapped and raped three women and held them in his home for a decade (Photo: AFP / Cuyahoga County Jail)
Police have confirmed that the leak appears to be genuine, and Cleveland's Mayor Frank Jackson held a news conference Thursday to urge officers to protect the confidentiality of the investigation and shield the women's privacy.
Amanda Berry, who was kidnapped in 2003 the eve of her 17th birthday, was able to take advantage of Castro's slip, but not before overcoming an agonising moment of doubt – was her captor "testing" her? Was he waiting to pounce?
Thankfully, for her six-year-old daughter Jocelyn and two fellow captives, she decided to risk it.
She pulled back the heavy door only to find an exterior metal screen door still locked. She screamed for help.
A neighbour heard her desperate cries and rushed to her aid. Once she and Jocelyn were free, she called the police. Officers raced to the scene, broke down the door and started searching the house.
SECOND AND THIRD VICTIMS
As they neared the top of the steps on the second floor, Michelle Knight – who was kidnapped in 2002 at the age of 20 – "ran and threw herself into (Officer) Espada's arms", the police report said, according to WKYC news.
She began to sob, saying: "You saved me, you saved me."
The officers asked her if there was anyone else upstairs, and that was when Gina DeJesus, kidnapped in 2004 at the age of 14, came out of the bedroom.
When the women began to recount their story to investigators, the full torment of their captivity became clear.
PREGNANT AND PUNCHED
Knight told police that she had got pregnant "at least five times" during nearly 12 years of captivity, CBS news reported, citing the police report.
"Ariel would make her abort the baby," the police report read. "He starved her for at least two weeks and then repeatedly punched her in stomach until she miscarried."
Castro brought in a plastic kiddie pool and forced Berry to give birth in it in order to contain the inevitable mess, the women told police.
He also forced Knight to assist and told her "if baby died... he'd kill her".
At one point on that terrifying 25 December 2006, the newborn girl stopped breathing and Knight "breathed for her", giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Berry told police that Castro would sometimes take her daughter with him when he left the house, but made sure she didn't know Knight or DeJesus's real names to avoid raising any suspicions.
The women said they were chained in the basement during their early years of captivity, but eventually were allowed to live unchained upstairs behind locked doors.
A friend of Castro, local musician Ricky Sanchez, told AFP that he had recently visited the house and seen a young girl.
"Okay, 45 minutes after I was there last Thursday, I saw that little girl coming towards me from the kitchen area," he said.
"As soon as he saw her, she was walking towards the door, he came out right away and grabbed her by the hand and introduced her to me as his granddaughter.”
Police are still unsure how it was that none of the people who would visit the unassuming house at 2207 Seymour – including his family – realised that anything was amiss.
NOISES IN BASEMENT
"Ariel kept everybody at a distance," deputy police chief Ed Tomba said.
"The control that he may have had over those girls, we don't know that yet. I think that's going to take us a long time to figure that out."
Sanchez said that he had heard noises from Castro's basement.
"I ask him for a minute 'What is that? What is that noise?' 'Oh, that's just those dogs that I have down here'," Sanchez recalled.
"When I was about to leave, I tried to open the door and I couldn't even, because there's so many locks in there. I mean what? 'I can't get out of here! Would you please help me!'," he said.
"He says, 'Oh I got it for you', and then he opened it for me. The front door," he said.