With several swipes from the arm of an excavator and a smattering of applause from spectators, demolition began on the Cleveland house where Ariel Castro held three women captive and raped them for more than a decade.
The house is being torn down as part of a deal that spared Ariel Castro a possible death sentence. He was sentenced last week to life in prison plus 1,000 years.
One of the women imprisoned there, Michelle Knight, showed up early. She made a brief statement and released balloons into the air.
"Nobody was there for me when I was missing," said Knight.
"And I want the people out there to know, including the mothers, that they can have strength, they can have hope, and their child will come back, they will."
Katie Mae Brown, 62, a former resident of the street, said tearing the house down was important for the neighborhood to show "that monster — that he is behind bars and that he's never going to get out."
Prosecutor Tim McGinty said the two houses to the left of Castro's are also being torn down and will be developed into a park or whatever the residents decide. A local news station reported that the house was wiped off Google Earth before demolition began.
Prosecutors say Castro cried when he signed over the house deed and mentioned his "many happy memories" there with the women. They highlighted the teary-eyed scene to illustrate Castro's "distorted and twisted" personality.
On Wednesday, McGinty called him "one evil guy."
Family members, including his son, Anthony Castro, went to the house earlier in the week and picked up personal items including old photographs, guitars and bicycles. They said the house razing was part of a healing process. "It's sad and hard, but it is necessary for us to move on," Anthony Castro told a Cleveland reporter.
The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Each had accepted a ride from Castro.
They escaped May 6, when Amanda Berry, now 27, broke part of a door and yelled to neighbors for help. Castro was arrested that evening.
At Castro's sentencing, prosecutors displayed photos that provided a first glimpse inside the rooms where the women lived.
Stuffed animals lined the bed and crayon drawings were taped to the wall where Berry lived with her young daughter, who was fathered by Castro. One of the drawings on a shelf said, "Happy Birthday."
The window was boarded shut and doorknobs had been removed and replaced with multiple locks. Saucer-size holes in inside doors were meant for circulation.
Another room, shared by Knight and Gina DeJesus, had a portable toilet, a clock radio and several chains.
The house, which quickly became a drive-by attraction after the women fled to freedom, was fenced off and kept under 24-hour police guard amid arson threats.