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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Escape from Captivity; Shock in Cleveland; Former Bandmates of Suspect Speak Out; With Three Women Found, One Still Missing
Aired May 8, 2013 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARIA CASTRO MONTES, COUSIN OF SUSPECTS: The important part, what he did to these girls, what he took from them that they will never get back. They are the heroes here. Everybody wants to talk about this man that has saved these girls, and, yes, he played a part in that, but they are the real heroes. They survived, they stuck together, took care of each other, kept their faith alive. They knew their families were waiting for them.
And however they did it I don't know how these girls have the strength that I cannot even imagine, how they mustered in that situation, but they did. And they finally found that opportunity and found the courage to break free and come out of that home, and have now been reunited with their families. That's the greatest gift that their families can receive.
And so, close to Mother's Day, we are so happy for them and at the same time we are so heavy hearted.
ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: That's what I'm seeing from you, these conflicting emotions, right?
MONTES: This Castro family is a very tight family. Unfortunately, this particular group of boys was from a first marriage of an uncle, and they weren't -- they weren't born and raised here. They came back into Cleveland as teenagers and we knew them then as they were young adults.
You know, they were accepted, obviously, and we always acknowledged them, recognized that they were our cousins. I mean, you know, we hugged and kissed when we saw each other and caught up for a few minutes if we saw each other somewhere.
But it wasn't a close-knit relationship with them specifically. The closest one, I was involved with is Ariel, but, you know, again --
SAMBOLIN: Tell me about your relationship with him.
MONTES: You know, we were close when we were younger, just like most teenage kids in a family, our close. You know, he grew up, got married, had his own kids. I grow up, got married, had my own kids, and, you know, there becomes a distance when you go into adulthood.
I mean, all of us, people out there with families and members of their families they never see, they never visit, don't frequent their home. Is that strange? No. SAMBOLIN: It's pretty common.
MONTES: It's probably common. You know, you break off into your own family unit and then that's what you focus the rest of your life on.
SAMBOLIN: What about the alleged allegations of domestic violence? Did you know anything about that, that was happening in this home?
MONTES: No. You know, I knew his wife at the time they were married, I knew his children, and, again, briefly. But, you know, I had never frequented the home, since he been living there, even when he was married in the home.
We had never heard anything of domestic violence. I mean, obviously, that's something that people keep personal in their own home. I mean, the records are coming out, we're finding out about it. We're hearing about it, from what the news is telling us.
You know, again, shocking things that we're finding out. But, you know, no indications of any of that, I never would have thought that of him. I would have never --
SAMBOLIN: So, no signs of a dark side? Nothing at all. Nothing that you say, oh, yes, I knew it then? Nothing.
MONTES: You know, we have heard from people in this community that never saw a dark side. People who lived right next door to him. You know, there was never anything that this family (AUDIO GAP) inclination, any suspicions of anything. No one in the family would have remained quiet.
I don't believe his own mother, sister, and his children would have kept something like this under wraps, and protected him with this kind of secret. His own children are trying to come to grips with what happened. I mean, this is a man who is a loving father, a loving grandfather, a loving member of a very large family.
And we are devastated and we just -- but our bigger devastation for the girls and what's coming to light now. We just hope and pray these girls can find normalcy in their lives and that they can move on and that someday, you know, they can -- they can live normal lives again. I don't know how that's possible.
SAMBOLIN: I want to ask -- I know you've been through a lot this morning and I really appreciate your time. So, you mentioned that you had been in the house, prior to him buying this house, purchasing the house.
Can you walk me through the house? Because, you know, there's some speculation that things were happening in the basement, that perhaps it was sound proof? What can you tell us about the layout of the house?
MONTES: You know, I can't speculate what he had going on at that house at this time. You know, if there are reports there is sound proofing in the basement, then obviously that's something police will or have uncovered, as part of their investigation. If that was what he had there, it was obviously for the reasons of what he was trying to hide and keep under wraps there.
That's certainly not the situation when that home previously was owned by someone else that I knew and had been in the home. It's not a very big house --
SAMBOLIN: So, walk me through the layout. When you walk in, what's on the first floor, versus the second floor?
MONTES: First floor is living room, dining room, kitchen, and a bathroom right off the kitchen, and then there's a back porch. And then, upstairs, three bedrooms, two larger bedrooms, one small bedroom.
You know, it was a house that I had been in when I was a younger child, and hadn't been there since.
SAMBOLIN: And what about in the basement? Were there any bedrooms in the basement?
MONTES: I had actually -- as far as I know, it was not a finished basement, and that is something I don't recall ever gone down into that basement for any reason. But, obviously, that was -- again, prior to all of this.
So, I -- again, can't speculate on what is in there now or why. But definitely not anything that was there previously.
SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, Maria, we appreciate your time shedding light on all of this. We are very sorry for the pain to your family as well and wish you a speedy recovery as you deal with all of this.
MONTES: Right. Our family has to recover as well, but we're more concerned for those girls.
SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.
MONTES: Thank you, Zoraida. Thank you.
SAMBOLIN: We're going to have much more live from Cleveland when we come back.
SAMBOLIN: This is a special edition of STARTING POINT. We are live in Cleveland.
And there are burning questions this morning about the living hell that three women were forced to endure during a decade of captivity in this home right behind me on Seymour Avenue on Cleveland's west side.
FBI agents have been in and out of house ever since Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight's miraculous escape on Monday. They are not revealing yet what they have found inside that home. And today, for the first time, FBI agents will interview kidnapping suspects Pedro, Onil, and Ariel Castro. They also could be criminal charged today.
And Amanda Berry, who's desperate 911 call brought an end to this horrific nightmare getting a chance to reconnect by phone with family members in Tennessee. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANDA BERRY, KIDNAP VICTIM (via telephone): Hello?
FERN GENTRY, AMANDA BERRYS' GRANDMOTHER: Amanda?
BERRY: Yes, grandma.
GENTRY: Yes. How are you?
BERRY: I'm fine.
GENTRY: Glad to have you back.
BERRY: It's good to be back.
GENTRY: I thought you were gone.
BERRY: Nope, I'm here.
GENTRY: We're happy down here for you.
BERRY: Thank you so much. I miss everybody. I love you guys so much.
GENTRY: The little girl is your baby?
BERRY: Yes, she's my daughter, born on Christmas.
GENTRY: I thought about you all this time. I never forgot you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: And now, let's get you to the latest on the kidnapping investigation. There are a lot of questions this morning about what federal investigators are finding inside Ariel Castro's home.
Martin Savidge live from the county justice center where the Castro brothers are being held.
What are you finding out, Martin?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): -- the home on Seymour Avenue, searching for evidence in this house of horrors. Throughout the day and late into the night, FBI agents meticulously search, removing the front door, searching the crawl space, carting away a red pickup and a jeep.
At one point, bringing in a cadaver dog. It's not known what if anything the dog found, the FBI taking the lead in the search.
DET. JENNIFER CIACCIA, CLEVELAND P.D.: This is just the tip of the iceberg this investigation will take a very long time.
SAVIDGE: The three suspects, 52-year-old Ariel Castro, his brothers Pedro and Onil behind bars. They will face more interrogation today.
Authorities have 48 hours to file charges, and that window closes later tonight.
In the neighborhood, residents are still celebrating the jubilance tempered with shock and disbelief.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unreal.
TITO DE JESUS, FRIEND OF ARIEL CASTRO: I know who lived there. They panned the camera to his house. It's like I turned white. My wife told me, what was wrong? Are you OK? I was like, I was dumbfounded.
SAVIDGE: Away from the cameras, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, the three women who endured a decade of captivity trying to piece their shattered lives back together.
SANDRA RUIZ: This is a miracle, a very, very large miracle. And we're all excited.
SAVIDGE: And in Tennessee -- Amanda Berry's grandmother got a very important phone call from the granddaughter she hasn't seen in years.
BERRY: Yes, grandma.
GENTRY: Yes, how are you?
SAVIDGE: A giant step in trying to close the door on this house of horrors.
SAMBOLIN: So, I would like to bring in Miguel Quinones and Tito De Jesus. Both men are friends of one of the suspects, Ariel Castro and have performed music with him at local gigs over the years.
Tito and Miguel, thank you very much for being with us this morning.
MIGUEL QUINONES, FRIEND OF ARIEL CASTRO: Thank you.
SAMBOLIN: So, Tito, I'm going to begin with you. We are trying to paint a picture of this man. There are two different stories that came out right in the very beginning. People were saying, you know, this is a normal guy, barbecued with us. What can you tell us about him?
DE JESUS: He was a normal guy. I had known him for 20 years. I performed with different bands here in Cleveland and he seemed like a normal guy, laughing, joking around. One thing he never did share his personal life and that's -- as a musician, we respected that. Didn't want to mix music with your personal life, it's OK.
But never seemed like the type that would do something like this. Never. You know, never had a clue.
SAMBOLIN: Miguel, what about you?
QUINONES: The only thing I can say about him, he performed with us Grupo Fuego. The last time he performed was in 2008. As you know, Ariel performed with a lot of bands over 20 years that I know of and he was a great guy. I have nothing negative to say about him, you know?
SAMBOLIN: So this must have caught you totally off-guard and by surprise.
QUINONES: Definitely. We are shocked. We are shocked by everything that happened and still dealing with it, it hurts the whole community.
Tito, have you been inside the house?
DE JESUS: Yes, I've been inside the house.
SAMBOLIN: So, tell me, when you were inside the house, what did you see?
DE JESUS: Back in 2011, when I was moving some stuff from my house, and when I walked in to drop my stuff off, looked like a normal house. You know, he had his furniture and he had his like bass amp, but I wasn't looking like really around for anything.
What I saw, it was pretty -- it was pretty, simple and I pretty much just walked into the living room, never been upstairs, never been downstairs, pretty much from the entrance in the living room and that's basically it.
What I saw with my eyes is pretty much normal.
SAMBOLIN: So, back in 2011 --
DE JESUS: Yes.
SAMBOLIN: -- was he married at the time? Did he talk about a family, about any children? DE JESUS: No. He never spoke about a family. We all knew he had kids, but it was like I guess his first marriage or -- and -- and I have known Gina, Gina's family for a long time. I had no clue at that time when I was walking in there that they were there. You know, if I would have known, you know, I'm a friend -- I have never -- the family, except for one of the cousins, but I have known the family a long time and, if I only know being there, you know, it's hard on me to know I was there and I couldn't do anything.
SAMBOLIN: Have you spoken to Gina at all?
DE JESUS: No, I haven't spoken to Gina. I spoke with one of the cousins that I was raised with. And --
SAMBOLIN: What are they telling you about Gina and how she's doing?
DE JESUS: They are saying that they want her to recuperate, give her time, you know, and with all of this, it's going to take her a long time to get over it. It's just basically ten years in captivity, and it's not an easy thing, and you know, they want -- the family wants some space, you know, and to give her time.
SAMBOLIN: And before I let you guys go, did you know the other two brothers at all? When you were there with the other two brothers in the house at all?
DE JESUS: No. The times that I was there, he was alone. Always alone. I've never seen him with anybody nor his brothers. Nothing. Always alone. He was a loner, pretty much.
MIGUEL QUINONES, FRIEND OF ARIEL CASTRO: I didn't know the brothers. Only Ariel.
SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, Miguel and Tito, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate it. And don't be so hard on yourself, OK? Nobody knew what was going on, all right?
All right. We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back.
SAMBOLIN: Now that three women missing and presumed dead were found alive in Cleveland, there are new questions about another missing girl, Ashley Summers. She disappeared in 2007 at the age of 14, last seen in the same Cleveland neighborhood. Ashley's case remains open, and investigators plan to ask the three women if they knew anything about her.
Linda Summers is with us now. And Ashley is her husband's granddaughter, and set up a website to solicit information on her whereabouts. That was back when she was missing. I can only imagine what you must be going through right now. How are you feeling about this and that Ashley is still missing?
LINDA SUMMERS, STEP-GRANDMOTHER OF STILL-MISSING OHIO GIRL: Yes. Just a lot of questions. A lot of questions right now. When I first heard the news, I was just overwrought with emotions, and now, there are just a lot of questions. We really, really hope putting out all hopes that they know something, that they've heard of her, they know her, they've seen her, just any kind of information we can get.
SAMBOLIN: So, what are your efforts right now? Are you canvassing neighborhoods again? Are you going door-to-door? Are you working with police on this?
SUMMERS: Well, her mother is going to contact the FBI and is in contact with them. And then, right now, we're just trying to get all word out on like going to the media, that here, and utilizing them to spread the word, because in the beginning, because she was a runaway, her word was never spread as much as it is now.
SAMBOLIN: Yes. That's what we keep on finding out. When they're a runaway but there's kind of -- especially depending on when it happened, there's a different approach it was taken. So, talk to me about her disappearance.
SUMMERS: Well, she was staying with a relative nearby, just about ten blocks from here. And she basically -- we knew she ran away, because she packed up all her bags and all her clothes were gone. And, about a month after she disappeared, her mother believed she received a phone call, but there was nobody talking on the phone. And, then, about mid that -- she disappeared in July.
In November, we believe that may we have seen her walking down Lorain Avenue at nighttime. And by time -- but her hair was cut short and dyed blond. And by the time I got the car, turned around to really see if it was her, she had disappeared down an alley, because it was nighttime and we didn't see her again. And nothing has been heard from her since.
SAMBOLIN: And we understand that she was living with some women in this particular neighborhood as well.
SUMMERS: Not that I'm aware of.
SUMMERS: But she was nearby -- the relative she was staying with is just ten blocks from here. And then, her mother was living just about ten blocks when the girls disappeared. So, she was in this neighborhood somewhere around the same neighborhood that the girls disappeared from.
SAMBOLIN: What are the police saying to you?
SUMMERS: We have really not heard a whole lot from the police yet. So, I think they're just still investigating, waiting to get questions from the other young ladies.
SAMBOLIN: As you watch the investigation, and the house is right behind us, and the FBI was all over it. There were cadaver dogs. How do you feel about that? Are you worried? SUMMERS: Always worried. Any time the news brings up a body found in Cleveland, we wait on anxious breath to see if it was male or female, what the age of that victim was, then, yes that comes to our mind. It always does. But all you can do is hope and pray that it isn't -- that isn't going to be the news that we're going to actually have something good come out of it.
SAMBOLIN: And you said you haven't heard anything from the police. You haven't really talked to them. But are you expecting that they're going to question these girls about Ashley to see if there's some sort of a connection?
SUMMERS: Right. We expect -- hope and expect that they do, especially since Ashley's mother has been in touch with the FBI and questioned them, herself, and asking about it.
SAMBOLIN: Well, we certainly wish you all the luck in the world. You know, this is probably mixed emotions for you as well.
SUMMERS: Yes it is. Very happy for the families. And we hope we can feel the same joy with Ashley.
SAMBOLIN: Does it help you keep hope alive? We were talking to some experts and folks who've lost children, themselves, in the past, and they said the one thing that you can never do, you can never do, is give up on hope.
SUMMERS: Exactly. Exactly. And this does help bring hope anytime somebody is recovered, it brings us hope.
SAMBOLIN: Linda Summers, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. We wish you all the luck in the world as well. And keep us posted.
SUMMERS: Thank you. I will. Thank you so much for bringing this out to the public.
SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. As much as we can help, we shall. Thank you.
SUMMERS: Thank you.
All right. Next, the conversation with the family of one of the women who was just found. What Michele Knight's family says about her disappearance and her recovery? This may all shock you. It is coming up next.
SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. I sat down last night with the brother and three cousins of Michele Knight. They talked about her disappearance 11 years ago and her stunning rescue.
SAMBOLIN (voice-over): These are the first images we're seeing of a sister rescued from a decade in captivity. Did she change? Did she look different to you?
FREDDIE KNIGHT, BROTHER, MICHELE KNIGHT: Yes, she did. I mean, her hair wasn't long. She is like -- white as a ghost, but she's doing good.
SAMBOLIN: Freddie Knight finally reuniting with his sister, Michele, at the hospital after her incredible rescue on Monday from a house of horrors.
What did you do when you saw her? Did you run up to her and hug her? Did you --
FREDDIE KNIGHT: Yes, I hugged her, because she wanted a hug.
SAMBOLIN: The family remembers a very different girl. Her cousin, Kayla, reflects.
KAYLA DINICKLE, COUSIN, MICHELE KNIGHT: We used to have dance contests and jumped on the bed and act silly. Michele is always silly.
SAMBOLIN: Brenda clearly remembers the day Michele vanished in 2002.
BRENDA DINICKLE, COUSIN, MICHELE KNIGHT: Michele told my niece that she was going to use the pay phone and that she would come back to my sister's house, which she didn't. That was the last time Michele was seen.
SAMBOLIN: They went to police and explained that Michele was missing, and they were worried because she needed extra help.
BRENDA DINICKLE: Michele was (INAUDIBLE), but she had a mind of a child.
SAMBOLIN: The family scoured the neighborhood, but they were not able to find her.
What did you think happened to her?
BRENDA DINICKLE: She ended up dead.
SAMBOLIN: Then two days ago, the shocking news that three women, including Michele, escaped from a house where they were held hostage for years.
FREDDIE KNIGHT: I was shocked when I found out, yes. I was shaking, yes, realizing that my sister is found.
SAMBOLIN: Freddie knows his sister faced a terrible ordeal in that house but says he is going to be there for her.
FREDDIE KNIGHT: My and my sister is going to move on, forget the past of what happened, leave it behind, and start anew.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SAMBOLIN (on-camera): We also reached out to Michele Knight's mother, Barbara, and she says that she's eager to reunite with her long lost daughter. She acknowledges there was a troubled family life in the past, and she tells "The Cleveland Plain Dealer" she wants to reconnect in part to atone for that difficulty and the role that it played in Michele's disappearance.
So, earlier this morning, Michele's mom, Barbara Knight, spoke with NBC. She was talking about their strained relationship. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA KNIGHT, MOTHER OF MICHELE KNIGHT: I know she's probably angry at the world, because she thought that she would never be found. But, thank God that somebody did.