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Wrecking crews demolish Cleveland house where three women were held

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Wrecking crews began demolishing a rundown house in Cleveland on Wednesday, where three young women had been imprisoned and tortured by Ariel Castro for about a decade.

An aunt of Gina DeJesus, one of the women who had been abducted and held captive by Castro, took the first swipe at his home shortly after 7:00 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT), operating a hydraulic excavator with assistance as a crowd swarmed the site, snapping photographs and applauding.

DeJesus's mother, Nancy Ruiz, cheered as the huge arm on a heavy demolition truck ripped into the pink room where her daughter had been held and fed through a hole in the door, County Executive Ed FitzGerald told Reuters.

The longest-held captive, Michelle Knight, arrived at the site with a bunch of yellow balloons and watched as the home of her tormentor was torn to the ground.

The razing comes less than a week after Castro, 53, was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years, for holding Knight, DeJesus and Amanda Berry captive in his home on Cleveland's west side.

County engineers cut off electricity to the house on Monday, ahead of the demolition. Castro's family members including his son, Anthony, had visited the house that day to retrieve personal items.

Castro signed the deed to the three-story house over to Cuyahoga County when he pleaded guilty to 937 charges, including aggravated murder, for causing Knight to miscarry by beating and starving her.

Knight, 32, read a statement at Castro's sentencing, saying: "I spent 11 years of hell. Now your hell is just beginning."

Berry, 27, DeJesus, 23, and Knight went missing from the west side of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004.

They were rescued, along with Berry's 6-year-old daughter by Castro, on May 6, after neighbors heard Berry's cries and helped her break through the house's front door.

Police found more than $22,000 in a washing machine in the basement. The money will help pay for the demolition.

Cleveland Councilman Brian Cummins, who represents the ward where the house is located, said his office was working on foreclosing two adjacent, abandoned properties.

Cummins said survivors and neighbors would help decide what to do with the properties.

(This story is refiled to reword headline to differentiate from earlier story)

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bernadette Baum)