The reaction to Ariel Castro’s suicide

The world was shocked back in May when the news broke that a man called Ariel Castro had kept three women captive in his Cleveland, Ohio home for about a decade. One, Gina DeJesus, was just 14 when she was kidnapped. Unable to escape because they were chained up, beaten and raped on a regular basis, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and DeJesus were eventually able to escape and raise the alarm for help. Ariel Castro was arrested and charged, pleading guilty to 937 charges to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to life in prison plus a thousand years on Aug. 1, 2013. 

For the kidnapper, it looked as though he would spend the rest of his life in prison. He did, but it was nowhere near as long as anyone thought. After just over a month in prison, he hanged himself using a sheet as a ligature and, despite efforts made to revive him, he died from his injuries.

As the BBC reports, Castro was not on suicide watch, which would have involved someone watching Castro 24/7. However, he was checked up on every 30 minutes. In a cell on his own, that 30 minutes was just enough to carry out his suicide. 

Responses to his death have been mixed. Many people have branded him a coward who could not face his time in prison, despite the captivity that he imposed on the three women in his home. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty didn’t mince his words, saying:

“This man couldn’t take, for even a month, a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade. Let this be a message to other child kidnappers: There will be a heavy price to pay when you are caught. You won’t enjoy the captive side of the bars.”

The three women he held captive are apparently aware of his death, but have not made a public statement. The Castro family are of course shocked at the news. His mother and sister visited him a few days before his death, but saw no signs that he was suicidal. Sadly, they first learned about Castro’s death via the media.

No matter whether one believes the world will be a better place without Castro, questions still need to be asked about why he wasn’t stopped in time, why no one saw the signs of a suicidal tendency and how he managed to take his own life when his cell should have been suicide-proof. A BBC article discusses this very issue, quoting an expert in suicide prevention in prisons who suggests that cells can only ever be suicide-resistant. As she expounds:

“This means that you do your due diligence trying to ensure as much as you can the physical safety of a cell by trying to outwit the inmate and looking at all the potential accoutrements and possessions they have or don’t have and trying to make it as safe as possible. But there are times when, because they are in that cell 24 hours a day, they have the time and the opportunity to think up creative ways of committing suicide.”

Anything that could be used as an anchor for a ligature is removed from the cell. It is even possible to avoid giving an inmate a smock to wear rather than having a sheet to cover themselves; these smocks are made of a canvas-like material and cannot be torn. Measures like this have ensured that the suicide rate in prisons has fallen. Nevertheless, as an expert on prison suicides explains, if someone wants to commit suicide, they will find a way. 

A full-scale enquiry will be carried out to see if there was anyway Castro’s death could have been avoided. In the meantime, most people’s sympathy will be saved for Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. Hopefully, they can eventually find the strength to find some form of closure so that they can enjoy their freedom with a little more pleasure.