Profiler says Cleveland kidnapper in ‘deeply disturbed’ criminal category
Ariel Castro typical of criminals who act out of reasons of fantasy or delusion, says forensic psychologist
In court on Thursday morning, Ariel Castro (52) did not speak. Unshaven, with his head hanging low and dressed in a dark blue prison jumpsuit, he heard his arraignment – four charges of kidnap and three counts of rape – and signed documents with shackled hands.
“The situation has turned,” Cuyahoga county assistant prosecutor Brian Murphy told the court. “Castro is the captive in captivity.” He is being held in “administrative segregation” at the Cuyahoga County Jail, isolated from other prisoners.
The mugshot of Castro’s face is now widely recognised as a face of evil – begging questions such as: “How could this happen, how could he do it?” and “Will those girls ever get past the trauma?”
These are the questions tackled by criminal profilers and forensic psychologists such as Dr NG Berrill, the founder and director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioural Science.
In his Harlem office, Berrill wears casual clothes while counselling and consulting patients – both victims and one- time criminals, usually sex offenders. He wants them to feel safe, he explains.
“I wear a suit often enough when I’m in court,” he jokes, adding how on behalf of the centre, which acts as a private consulting firm for cases heard at criminal and family courts, he spends a large chunk of his time giving testimony of criminal evaluation in courtrooms and visiting patients in juvenile centres or prisons.
“Castro falls into the last of three categories of kidnapping criminals,” Berrill tells The Irish Times , “the ‘deeply disturbed individual’ who acts out of reasons of fantasy or delusion, often motivated by mental illness.”
While the media hasten to call him a “madman” and most people agree that no sane person could be that cruel, Berrill warns that the appropriate question in cases like this, is whether he operated out of a “fixed delusion” or is he “predatory, exploitative, a paedophile?”
The fact that Castro is on suicide watch, Berrill adds, also does not mean that he is experiencing a moral awakening or feelings of guilt.
“He could just be depressed, more like a reaction of being taken out of his circumstance, in which he created a scenario of coming and using and abusing as he pleased.”
Officials told reporters on Thursday that they did not believe Castro was a threat to himself.
In his 25-year career at the centre, Berrill has worked on more than 10 cases of kidnapping, although none as dramatic as this one.
“People like him, they’re going to be in jail for a long time,” he says. “Will he be fixed? Probably not. There’s no way to undo that kind of deviation or personality style, especially at his age.”
Perpetration-prevention programmes exist across America identifying at-risk youths who may end up fitting certain criminal profiles.
One such programme is based out of the Kempe Foundation for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect.
“It’s difficult to make connections, though,” Kempe’s associate director of mental health, Dr Bill Bettes, tells The Irish Times .
“People would of course like to be able to say, ‘oh yes, he did these five things so this means he will grow up like such-and- such’,” Bettes adds, “but really, people like Castro, these cases are so extreme you can’t really claim to know.”
Berrill says: “I don’t know if it can be done. It’s an empirical question: can you intervene early enough?”
Most psychiatrists and psychologists interviewed agree with that assessment.
Interestingly, they also all agree that “there is hope” for the three young women, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry, as well as Berry’s six-year-old daughter, rescued from the “torture chamber” in Castro’s home, in the heart of Cleveland.
“Normal life is definitely possible, it will just take time, and the healing needs to be done properly,” Berrill says, listing “years of therapy”, learning how to deal with PTSD and “creating a reference to normality prior to crime” – something he said was easier in cases of older abductions, as crucial factors.
“Everyone experiences trauma in their own way,” Bettes says. “If, as a doctor, I sat across from either of these girls, the key thing for me is to understand how they experienced this horrible event.”
He adds: “There are effective treatments and this doesn’t have to destroy their whole life. There is support for them, and victims like them.”
As Castro faces the possibility of the death penalty, his victims are being showered with support. Public donations have started coming in, after two of the women, DeJesus and Berry, and Berry’s daughter returned to their family homes.
Speaking on ABC News Good Morning America about her daughter’s homecoming, Nancy Ruiz, the mother of DeJesus, said: “I’m still in a dream to be honest.”
Crowds remain outside the girls’ homes this weekend. They line the street, cheering.