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Ohio abduction suspect was familiar figure in neighborhood

Neighbors and friends were stunned by the arrest of Ariel Castro and his two brothers on accusations three women were held captive for years in his Cleveland home, even though there were hints of a darker side in the alleged abductor's life.

It seems most everyone knew Castro in the tight-knit neighborhood near downtown where authorities say three women missing for about a decade were held captive.

He played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands. He parked his school bus on the street. He gave neighborhood children rides on his motorcycle.

And when they gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember two girls who vanished years ago, Castro was there, too, comforting the mother of one of the missing, a neighbor said.

"He came to a vigil and acted as if nothing was wrong,'' said Anthony Quiros, who lived next door to Castro's house growing up, according to a Reuters report.

Neighbors and friends were stunned by the arrest of Castro and his two brothers after a 911 call led police to his house, where authorities say three women missing for about a decade were held captive.

A 6-year-old girl also was found in the home, and a neighbor said she was at a park a week earlier with Castro, who referred to her as his "girlfriend's daughter." Israel Lugo lives down the street from the house where the women were found Monday and said he was stunned to see one of them holding the girl, who was screaming and crying.

Castro and his brothers, ages 50 to 54, were in custody Tuesday but had not been formally charged.

Castro was friends with the father of Gina DeJesus, one of the missing women, and helped search for her after she disappeared, said Khalid Samad, a friend of the family. He also performed music at a fundraiser held in her honor, Samad said.

"When we went out to look for Gina, he helped pass out fliers," said Samad, a community activist who was at the hospital with DeJesus and her family Monday night. "You know, he was friends with the family."

Tito DeJesus, one of Gina's uncles, said he played in a few bands with Castro over the past 20 years. He remembered visiting Castro's house after his niece disappeared, but he never noticed anything out of ordinary, saying it was very sparsely furnished and filled with musical instruments.

"That's pretty much what it looked like," DeJesus said. "I had no clue, no clue whatsoever that this happened."

Joe Popow, a father of six who told Reuters he has known the Castro brothers since childhood, recalled a music session with Castro that turned bizarre when the abduction suspect reportedly claimed he was in the CIA.

"And I don't know if he was joking or not, but it's the way he said it, how serious he said it. I didn't know what he was capable of. That just put me on defense, and I just started stepping away,'' Popow told the news agency.

Richard DeJesus, who lives near the Seymour Avenue block where the women were found and whose mother lived on the street for years, told The Associated Press the neighborhood is "a place where folks don't pry."

"This is Seymour," DeJesus said. "It used to be a drug-infested area. You talk, you can get hurt up. They'll come burn your house down. So people will watch, but they're scared to watch at the same time."

"We know everyone but still keep to ourselves," said Juan Perez, who has lived two doors down from the house where the women were found since he was 5 years old. "We stick to family. There are some shady people you don't know about."

"We keep to ourselves," echoed Alexis Lipscomb, who moved onto the block six months ago with her fiance, whose mother has lived there for years.

Castro's son, Anthony Castro, said in an interview with London's Daily Mail newspaper that he now speaks with his father just a few times a year and seldom visited his house. On his last visit two weeks ago, he said, his father would not let him inside.

"The house was always locked," he told the newspaper. "There were places we could never go. There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage."

Castro was arrested in 1993 in connection with a domestic violence complaint and released on $10,000 bail, Reuters reported. The case was reportedly dropped when a grand jury declined to indict him, court records obtained by the news agency show.

Juan Perez, who lives two doors down from the house, has known Castro for decades.

"He was always happy, nice, respectful," Perez said. "He gained trust with the kids and with the parents. You can only do that if you're nice."

He said Castro had an ATV and a motorcycle and would take children on rides. Nothing seemed wrong with it then, he said, adding that he now thinks that was one way Castro tried to get close to the children. He also worked until recently as a school bus driver.

Castro's personnel file with the Cleveland public school district, obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information request, shows he was hired in 1990 as a bus driver after saying on his application that he liked working with children.

He was repeatedly disciplined, including for an incident when he allegedly called a young student a "bitch" and then left the child alone on a bus, Reuters reported.

The personnel file includes details on Castro's dismissal, approved by the school board last fall after he left his bus unattended for four hours.

His record, however, includes performance appraisals with dozens of check marks in the "excellent'' part of the of the forms, according to the Reuters report.

"I have witnessed him trying to work with students, families and myself to handle student issues,'' Joshua Gunvalsen, a school principal, wrote in a letter in one of the disciplinary cases obtained by the news agency.

Police identified the other two suspects as the 52-year-old's brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.

A relative of the three brothers said their family was "as blindsided as anyone else."

Juan Alicea said he hadn't been to the home of his brother-in-law Ariel Castro since the early 1990s but had eaten dinner with him at a different brother's house shortly before the arrests Monday.

Lucy Roman lives next to a house she said is shared by Pedro Castro and his mother. She said police arrested him Monday night.

"I feel sorry for her," Roman said of the mother. "She's a very nice lady."

Several residents said they saw Ariel Castro at a candlelight vigil for the missing girls.

Antony Quiros said he was at the vigil about a year ago and saw Castro comforting Gina DeJesus' mother.

One neighbor, Francisco Cruz, said he was with Castro the day investigators dug up a yard looking for the girls.

Castro told Cruz, "They're not going to find anyone there," Cruz recalled.

Castro's Facebook page identifies him as a Cleveland resident and says he attended the city's Lincoln-West High School. His interests include Virginia Beach, the Chinese crested dog breed and Cuban-born salsa singer Rey Ruiz.

On April 11, he wrote to congratulate "my Rosie Arlene" and wish her a fast recovery from giving birth to "a wonderful baby boy. That makes me Gramps for the fifth time. Luv you guys!"

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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