But she feared it was a test: Castro occasionally left a door unlocked to test them, Berry said. But she called to neighbors on a porch for help and was able to squeeze through.
Castro was strange in other ways, relatives said. He would take his nephew and nieces to fast-food restaurants and let them split a fountain soda, forcing them to pass the drink around. He would let each one sip just enough until the line of soda reached an exact marking on the paper cup.
Then he would tear a hamburger into four pieces and watch them eat it, said Angel Caraballo.
‘‘I was always quiet and nervous around him,’’ he said. ‘‘Always.’’
The nice-guy image Castro presented to the rest of the world enabled him to remain close with the family of Gina DeJesus, another one of the women he is accused of imprisoning. Castro comforted the girl’s mother at vigils, passed out missing-person fliers and played music at a fundraiser dedicated to finding DeJesus.
He was a school bus driver for more than two decades, saying on his job application in 1990 that he liked working with children. He was fired last year after leaving his bus unattended for four hours.
‘‘Let me tell you something: That guy was the nicest guy — one of the nicest guys I ever met,’’ said Ricky Sanchez, a musician who played often with Castro.
But on a recent visit to Castro’s run-down home, Sanchez said, he heard noises ‘‘like banging on a wall’’ and noticed four or five locks on the outside door. Then a little girl came out from the kitchen and stared at him, silently.
When Sanchez inquired about the banging, Castro blamed it on his dogs.
‘‘When I was about to leave, I tried to open the door,’’ Sanchez said. ‘‘I couldn’t even, because there were so many locks in there.’’
Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran, Andrew Welsh-Huggins and freelance reporter John Coyne in Cleveland; Mitch Stacy and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus; Dan Sewell in Cincinnati; John Seewer in Toledo; and news researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.