Ariel Castro appears in Cleveland Municipal court Thursday, May 9, 2013, in Cleveland. Castro was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. Ariel Castro was charged while his brothers, Pedro and Onil Castro, were held but faced no immediate charges. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
The man accused of kidnapping three women and holding them hostage for a decade inside a Cleveland home grew up in Berks County.
Julio Castro, uncle of Ariel Castro, tells NBC10.com the alleged abductor and his brothers Pedro and Onil lived in Reading, Pa. as kids after moving from Puerto Rico. The connection was first reported by The Reading Eagle Thursday.
Castro allegedly abducted three women -- Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus – between 2002 and 2004 and held them captive for 10 years. In each case, the 52-year-old former bus driver offered the women a ride, according to investigators.
Authorities say Castro raped the women, impregnating Knight, now 32, five times before forcing her to miscarry by punching her in the stomach. Castro also allegedly fathered another child with Berry. He made Knight deliver the now 6-year-old girl into a kiddie pool. Police plan to conduct a paternity test.
Authorities tell NBC News the women were initially chained up in the basement of the Seymour Street home. They were later kept barricaded on the second floor. There were only two occasions where the women were allowed outside, never allowed to leave the property, investigators said.
Julio said he visited the brothers in Reading once when they were between 5 and 10-years-old in the late 1960s or 1970s. The family later moved to Cleveland, Ohio.
The 77-year-old who owns a grocery store near the home where the women were held says he was shocked to learn about his nephew's connection to the alleged crimes.
"I was terrified," he told NBC10.com Thursday morning. "I couldn't believe it."
The women were able to escape captivity when Berry, now 27, was able to break through a locked storm door, get a neighbor’s attention and call 911. The women told police Castro had left a large inside door unlocked, something he would do from time to time to test them.
When police descended onto Ariel's home, Julio says he was in disbelief and initially yelled at the authorities.
“I told the police officer, ‘No! It can’t be possible, this is my nephew’s home. It can’t be possible'”
He says he's never been inside the Seymour Street home and did not know anyone was being held captive. Castro says some of Ariel's friends had been in the house over the years and had no indication the women were there.
While he at first believed his nephew was not involved in the case, Castro says details now lead him to believe Ariel may be guilty.
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but according to the information from the girls that were held captive, it seems like it’s true,” he said.
Castro says the family is large and he's angry at how the 52-year-old has disgraced their name.
“You’re an animal," Julio said of his nephew. "Look what you have done to our family. We can’t believe what you have done to our family.”
Ariel Castro is charged with four counts of kidnapping, and three counts of rape. A $8 million bond was set Thursday at an Ohio court appearance. Pedro and Onil have not been implicated in the crimes.