Prosecutors may seek the death penalty in the case against a Cleveland man accused of kidnapping and holding captive three young women for years, on the basis of police reports that he allegedly forced miscarriages during the women’s detainment, officials announced Thursday.
Ariel Castro was arraigned Thursday morning in Cleveland Municipal Court, charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. He did not enter a plea at the hearing. He is being held on $8 million bail, which is higher than the $5 million requested by the prosecution.
Details about the conditions and abuse of the women – Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus – have emerged as the prosecution presented its case against Mr. Castro. The women were kidnapped between 2002 and 2004 when they were 21, 16, and 14 years old. Castro allegedly lured the victims into his car, promising to give them a ride home, but took them to his house, where he kept them confined for about 10 years.
While in captivity, Ms. Berry gave birth to a daughter who is now 6 years old, said police reports. Ms. Knight said she had at least five miscarriages caused by Castro. The three women were repeatedly beaten and raped, police reported.
“The horrific brutality and torture the victims endured for more than a decade is beyond comprehension,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said during a news conference.
Ohio state law calls for the death penalty for the "most depraved criminals who commit aggravated murder during the course of a kidnapping," said Mr. McGinty, who will "engage in a formal process to evaluate" seeking the death penalty against the suspect.
"I will seek charges for each and every act of sexual violence, rape, every day of kidnapping ... and each act of aggravated murder he committed by terminating pregnancies ... during this decade-long ordeal," he said.
Both McGinty and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson have asked residents and the media to respect the privacy of the three women and the young girl.
“The victims and their families have been overwhelmed by this response.... We need to give them room, space and time to heal," Mr. Jackson said during a press conference.
Jackson ordered Public Safety Director Marty Flask to instruct officials to not release information or details outside of the department out of respect for the victims.
“This is not for the sake of concealing any information,” he said. “It is to demonstrate compassion for the victims and their families and to ensure the credibility of the investigative process and allow us to arrive at a just conclusion to this difficult situation.”
Castro is currently being held in his own cell at the Cuyahoga County Jail under suicide prevention watch, officials told WEWS-TV. It is likely the suspect will face additional charges after a grand jury hearing within the next few weeks.
– Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
The scenario portrayed in the documents filed Thursday in Cleveland Municipal Court is a familiar nightmare for parents, involving the seemingly innocent offer of an unplanned ride to a young person by an adult male, whether a stranger or acquaintance.
According to the documents filed in court, Ariel Castro offered Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus rides home on separate occasions between 2002 and 2004. Instead of taking them home, he took them to his house on Seymour Avenue where he kept them captive until this week, a period ranging from 9 to 11 years.
With all the media attention on the case, child experts say this is an opportunity for parents to talk to their children about what to do if someone attempts to abduct them.
"Every parent needs to have age-appropriate conversations with their children about their safety to-and-from school, at school, and in the community,” said Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, in a statement Wednesday. “Whether they are five or 15, we should not assume that children know the seriousness of potential threats or know what to do if they are confronted.”
Michelle Knight, who was 21 when she went missing on Aug. 22, 2002, told police that Castro offered her a ride home as she was walking on Cleveland’s Lorain Avenue. Instead of taking her home, he allegedly brought her to his house where he locked her up in the basement, the police affidavit said.
Amanda Berry had just finished her shift at Burger King on April 21, 2003, when Castro offered her a ride home. He told her that his son also worked at Burger King. Ms. Berry, 16 at the time, called her parents to tell them she was getting a ride home.
Georgina DeJesus knew Castro before she was abducted at age 14. She was friends with Castro’s daughter, whom she had been walking home with on April 2, 2004. Castro approached Ms. DeJesus after the two girls parted paths and offered her a ride to his house so she could hang out with his daughter, the report said.
These kidnappings involve a stranger or acquainteance who detains a child overnight, transports them more than 50 miles, holds them for ransom, or intends to keep them permanently or kill them, the report said. These type of abductions often receive the most media attention.
Parents should talk with their kids about how to be aware of their environment and how to recognize potentially dangerous situations, said Rebecca Baily, a pshychologist who worked with former abductee Jaycee Dugard, in an interview with Time magazine.
She said, “we have [talked to] middle school groups, and it’s unbelievable how many kids in the classrooms will have experienced a scary event and not talk to their parents about it – whether they’ve been followed home by somebody as they were walking home from school or walking to the store. [The scary event] may be as innocuous as a teenager shouting at them, or it could be as sinister as somebody offering them a ride.”
The whole point is to address the fear involved with these topics, for both parents and children, she added.
Teaching children about safety and how to react in these situations helps protect kids, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said in their 2011 annual report.
[Editor's notes: The original version of this story incorrectly paraphrased the NCMEC annual report.]
“Children escape attempted abductions 81 percent of the time through their own actions; 28 percent actively resisted by yelling, kicking, pulling away, running away, or attracting attention; and 53 percent recognized something was not right and responded by walking or running away,” the report said.
In her forthcoming book, “Safe Kids, Smart Parents,” Bailey writes that there is a rising number of children who have been able to escape from abductors, and it shows children that “escape is a real option.”
Berry proved this with her escape from Castro’s house Monday night.
"The situation has turned,” assistant prosecuting attorney Brian Murphy said During Castro’s arraignment hearing Thursday. “Castro is the captive in captivity."
Cleveland prosecutors charged Ariel Castro with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape Wednesday while clearing his brothers, Pedro and Onil Castro, of any involvement in holding captive three women and one young girl for years.
The charges against Mr. Castro are all first degree felonies, and the suspect will be arraigned in court Thursday morning.
In a press conference Wednesday, city officials legal proceedings prevented them from discussing in detail many of the most pressing questions about the three women, such as how they were captured and what their lives were like in the house owned by Castro. But they did offer some new facts that begin to fill out the picture of a 10-year ordeal.
First, Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said there was no evidence suggesting that Pedro and Onil Castro were involved. The three brothers were found together when police arrested Ariel Castro, and there was enough probable cause to take all three into custody Monday night, Mr. Tomba said. But neither will be charged in connection with the case. They remain in custody, but on outstanding warrants for misdemeanor crimes.
Tomba also said Monday night was the first opportunity in 10 years that the women had a chance to escape. In the house, the victims were kept in separate rooms, but they knew each other. They never left the property and went outside the house only twice during their captivity.
"We were told they left the house and went into the garage in disguise," he said.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight disappeared between 2002 and 2004. Ms. Berry escaped from the house Monday evening with the help of neighbors who heard her yelling and kicking the door, and called 911.
An FBI evidence recovery team removed more than 200 items from the house. Tomba said the agents described the house as being in “disarray.”
While Tomba and would not go into details about what happened to the victims while they were held captive due to the ongoing criminal prosecution, other officials confirmed details early Wednesday.
Public Safety Director Martin Flask said investigators have not confirmed how the ropes and chains were used. A cadaver dog did not find any human remains inside the house or on the property, he said.
It will take several weeks for the FBI to catalog and test the evidence. The victims’ testimonies are the main source of evidence for the charges, Tomba said. The suspect cooperated with the investigators, providing a detailed statement. The suspect was read his Miranda rights, and the police do not suspect him in additional abduction cases. Castro underwent a DNA test to determine if he is the father of the 6-year-old girl, who is Berry’s daughter.
Before the charges were announced, Berry and Ms. DeJesus went home with family members. Ms. Knight remained at Metro Health Medical Center even though the hospital reported that all three women had been released.
Berry arrived at her sister’s home Wednesday morning, led by a police motorcade. Hundreds of neighbors and journalists lined the streets near the house.
Beth Serrano, Berry’s sister, gave a brief statement to the crowd after they arrived.
“At this time, our family would request privacy so my sister and niece and I can have time to recover," Serrano said, choking back tears. "We appreciate all you have done for us for the past 10 years. Please respect our privacy until we are ready to make our statement. And thank you."
Clad in a bright green hooded sweatshirt, DeJesus gave cheering crowd a thumbs up as a family member rushed her inside.
"There are not enough words to say or express the joy that we feel for the return of our family member Gina, and now Amanda Berry, the daughter, and Michelle Knight, who is our family also," Sandra Ruiz, DeJesus' aunt, told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Investigators are looking into the case of another missing women from the same area, Ashley Summers, who disappeared in 2007 when she was 14 years old. Tomba said the investigation this week has not led to any developments in Ashley's disappearance.
"We're hoping for our miracle, too," said Ashley’s aunt Debra Summers on Tuesday. She described her niece as not the type of girl who would leave without coming back.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Authorities could file charges against three brothers accused of kidnapping and holding three women captive for 10 years as early as Wednesday morning, officials say.
Suspects Ariel Castro, Pedro Castro, and Onil Castro were arrested Monday night after Amanda Berry escaped from a house owned by Ariel Castro and called 911. Police also found missing persons Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight in the house. The three women disappeared in separate incidents between 2002 and 2004, and all had been held captive in the Seymour Avenue house on the west side of Cleveland.
Cuyahoga County authorities have 48 hours after an arrest to file charges against the suspects, FBI spokeswoman Vicki Anderson said Tuesday. Federal and local law-enforcement officials will interview the suspects Wednesday, she said.
Details about the three men have emerged as neighbors and family members ask how and why the women could have been held for so long.
"The [brothers] were all good kids," Nelson Roman, a lifelong friend of them, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Tuesday. "That's why this news is devastating. It's not only horrifying to the families of the kidnapped girls, it's devastating to us, because these brothers were all very good kids who grew up in a very good family. I was shocked to see their pictures on television involved in kidnapping. We've stayed friends over the years and had no idea they were keeping girls hostage."
The Castro family was among the first Puerto Rican immigrants to settle in Cleveland after World War II. The brothers grew up in a family of nine children, and their father owned a car lot in the West 25th Street neighborhood, Adrian Maldonado, who owns a construction consulting company in the area, told The Plain Dealer.
Pedro Castro, the oldest of the three brothers, was a straight-A student in high school, but dropped out his junior year because of a problem with alcohol, Mr. Roman said. Pedro worked a punch-press machine in a factory, but his drinking habits forced him to stop working. In recent years, he was receiving Social Security benefits, Roman said.
Onil Pedro, the youngest brother, also had a problem with drinking, Roman said. He made his living doing odd jobs as a handyman until he was injured while working as a laborer five years ago. Since then, he has been receiving workers' compensation, Roman said.
Middle brother Ariel Castro, who owned the house where the women were found, was known by most people in his neighborhood. He was a school bus driver for 22 years, but he was fired by the Cleveland School District last November after several incidents of “bad judgment,” including leaving a child alone on the bus, making an illegal U-turn, and using the bus to go grocery shopping, according to records released Tuesday.
Mr. Castro also played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands.
However, he struggled to control his temper, The Plain Dealer reported.
According to a 2005 filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court, viewed by The Plain Dealer, Castro fought over the custody of his children with his former wife, Grimilda Figueroa. She had full custody of the children, but Castro allegedly took the daughters and kept them from his wife. In the filing, Ms. Figueroa’s attorney asked the judge to "keep [Castro] from threatening to kill [Figueroa]." She suffered a broken nose, broken ribs, and two dislocated shoulders, among other injuries.
Ariel Anthony Castro, his son, told The Plain Dealer that the news of his father’s alleged involvement is “beyond comprehension.”
In 2004, Anthony Castro, as he goes by, wrote an article as a journalism student for the Plain Press, a neighborhood newspaper, about the community’s anxiety after Ms. DeJesus’s and Ms. Berry’s disappearances. He interviewed Nancy Ruiz, DeJesus’s mother, for the article.
“That I wrote about this nearly 10 years ago – to find out that it is now so close to my family – it's unspeakable,” Anthony told The Plain Dealer.
Arlene Castro, one of Ariel’s daughters, told the TV program “America’s Most Wanted” in 2005 that she was the last person to see DeJesus alive, reported WEWS-TV in Cleveland. In the years after DeJesus’s disappearance, Ariel performed at a fundraiser held in her honor and passed out fliers with her photo on it. At a candlelight vigil a year ago, he comforted Ms. Ruiz.
Anthony said that he speaks to his father only a few times a year and rarely visited the house. He told London’s Daily Mail that his last visit was two weeks ago, and his father would not let him inside.
"The house was always locked," he said. "There were places we could never go. There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage."
City officials said Tuesday that there was no record of anyone calling to report criminal activity at the house, but they would continue to search the emergency databases. However, two of Ariel Castro’s neighbors said they called the police for separate incidents.
In November 2011, Israel Lugo heard pounding on the doors of the house. Police officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. "They walked to the side of the house and then left," Mr. Lugo said Tuesday.
Elsie Cintron lives three houses down from Castro. Several years ago, her daughter saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard, but the “police didn't take it seriously," she said Tuesday.
• Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.
On Monday, Charles Ramsey became a national hero.
Ramsey is the next door neighbor to Ariel Castro, who allegedly held three women captive in a Cleveland home for more than a decade.
Ramsey says shortly after he'd returned home from McDonald's on Monday, he heard "a girl going nuts" at the Castro house.
It was Amanda Berry. But Ramsey didn't know who she was. He'd lived next door to Ariel Castro and barbequed with him in the back yard. But he'd never seen this young woman before.
"She said help me get out," he says. "I figured it was a domestic violence dispute," he told The Associated Press. The door would only open a crack, so he told her to kick out the screen. "She comes out with a little girl and says 'Call 911.'
She told Ramsey she was Amanda Berry. He says it didn't register who she was until he was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. "I'm calling 911 for Amanda Berry? I thought this girl was dead!"
Talking about Ariel Castro, the homeowner who is now charged with three counts of rape and four counts of kidnapping, Ramsey said he had no indication that three women were being held hostage in the house. "I barbequed with this dude. I ate ribs and listened to salsa music [with him]. You see where I'm coming from?"
The Ramsey TV interviews have gone viral on the Internet and been autotuned already. In his various interviews, Ramsey mentions his trip to McDonald's shortly before discovering Amanda Berry. McDonald's Corp. tweeted:
"We salute the courage of Ohio kidnap victims & respect their privacy. Way to go Charles Ramsey- we'll be in touch."
Ramsey replied: "That's why now I'm having trouble sleeping. See, up until yesterday, the only thing that kept me from losing sleep was the lack of money. See what I'm saying? Now that that's going on and I could have done this last year, not this hero stuff, just do the right thing ..."
Does Ramsey feel like a hero?
"No. No, no, no. Bro, I'm a Christian and an American, I'm just like you," he told Anderson Cooper. "We bleed the same blood. Put our pants on the same way... It's just that you got to put that being a coward, 'I don't want to get into anybody's business,' you got to put that away for a minute.
And Ramsey says he has no interest in the FBI reward offered for the missing women.
"Take that reward and give it to them," he said.
[Editor's Note: Original article reflected the detention of three Castro brothers. The article was updated Thursday to reflect charges brought against Ariel Castro, and that no charges were filed against his two brothers]
Cleveland police on Monday night arrested three brothers in connection with kidnapping and holding captive three women for the past decade – a situation that left neighbors wondering why they had not noticed suspicious activity.
Suspect Ariel Castro owns the house where Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were held captive for about 10 years until Ms. Berry escaped Monday evening and called 911, Police Chief Michael McGrath said at a news conference Tuesday morning. Mr. Castro’s brothers – Pedro Castro and Onil Castro – were also arrested, though they do not live at the house.
Berry identified Ariel Castro as her captor in her frantic 911 call Monday evening, according to the call transcript. Police say they believe they have the right people in custody, but the investigation could take many weeks.
“We have several unanswered questions,” said Cleveland Mayor Frank Johnson at a press conference Tuesday. “Why were they taken? How were they taken? And how did they remain undetected in the city of Cleveland for this period of time?”
Neighbors on Seymour Avenue on the west side of Cleveland are surprised that the women were found in the house of Castro, a nice guy who attended neighborhood barbecues and offered kids rides on his four-wheeler.
“I'm not the only one on the block that feels ashamed to know that we didn't notice anything,” Juan Perez, who grew up two houses down the block, told WEWS-TV Monday night. “I mean, I feel like my head's low, I work at a school, I work with kids ... I have a heavy heart right now.”
Another neighbor said he never saw women or girls at the house, and there was no indication that people were being held against their will – only Castro doing “average” things.
“He just comes out to his backyard, plays with the dogs, tinkering with his cars and motorcycles, [and goes] back in the house,” Charles Ramsey, a neighbor, told WEWS-TV Monday. “There’s nothing exciting about him. Well, until today.”
But Mr. Perez said he now realizes that Castro did display some odd behavior – such as stopping at home for only 10 minutes or an hour – and he speculated that the suspect owned other property, which police are investigating.
The FBI collected evidence from the crime scene throughout the night, and the next step will be to piece together 10 years of logistical information, Mr. McGrath said at the news conference.
There is no evidence in city databases that anyone living near the house called authorities about suspicious activity, city Public Safety Director Martin Flask told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. There are also no code violations on the house or calls made to the fire department.
Police visited the house twice in the past 15 years: In 2000, Castro called the police to report a fight, but no arrests were made, and police visited the house in 2004 because, as a school bus driver, Castro left a child unattended on the bus. No one answered the door, and police said there was no criminal intent.
Castro's uncle, Julio, who owns a grocery store half a block from the house on Seymour Avenue, said Castro worked as a school bus driver. Cleveland Metropolitan School District spokesperson Roseann Canfora confirmed that Castro worked as a school bus driver but did not have details about the duration of his employment or whether he left voluntarily or was fired.
It’s unknown whether Castro allegedly gained the three women’s trust through his job as a bus driver, said Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba at the press conference Tuesday.
"That's up to the girls to tell us," he said. "We still don't know; that is one of the great unknowns right now. We anticipate getting that information from the ladies, not the suspects."
The Castro family grew up in the same west side Cleveland neighborhood and knew the DeJesus family, Julio Castro told CNN.
Mr. Tomba said that the police and FBI are interviewing members of the Castro family, but they are not at liberty to release any information gained from those conversations. He said the police are working with the prosecutor’s office to file charges within 36 hours from the suspects’ arrest.
• Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.
A desperate call for help and one frantic arm waving from the front door alerted neighbors that something was wrong on the west side of Cleveland on Monday evening.
He went to the porch to investigate, and the woman asked him to help her get out. “I’ve been in here a long time,” she said. Mr. Ramsey couldn’t open the door, so he helped her kick out the bottom.
The woman emerged with a little girl and said, “Call 911. My name is Amanda Berry.”
So began the remarkable discovery of three women in Cleveland who had been held captive for about 10 years – just a few miles from where they disappeared.
Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath told reporters Monday that he thinks Ms. Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight had been tied up and held at a home on Seymour Avenue since they were in their teens or early 20s. Berry disappeared after her shift at a Burger King in April 2003, a day before her 17th birthday. Ms. DeJesus disappeared a year later, then 14 years old, on her way home from school. Ms. Knight disappeared in August 2002, when she was 20 years old.
When Berry emerged from the house Monday evening, she was wearing pajamas and old sandals. Other neighbors, including Anna Tejeda, were also drawn to the yells for help.
Ms. Tejeda said she wasn’t sure that the woman was Berry.
"You're not Amanda Berry," Tejada said. "Amanda Berry is dead."
Berry told her she had been kidnapped and held captive and needed a telephone to call the police.
"Help me. I'm Amanda Berry," she told a 911 dispatcher. "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."
She asked the dispatcher to send police right away, “before he comes back,” referring to Ariel Castro, the man who police say owns the house where the women were found.
“I'm Amanda Berry,” she repeated. “I've been on the news for the last 10 years.”
Police arrived minutes later, and DeJesus and Knight came out of the house on their own, said Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba at a news conference Tuesday. Police arrested Mr. Castro and two of his brothers – Pedro Castro and Onil Castro – on Monday night.
Charlie Czorba, who lives on Seymour Avenue, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he was stunned by how long the women went undetected at the house.
"This is our own backyard," Mr. Czorba said. "These girls were locked up in our own backyard."
The Cleveland police and Federal Bureau of Investigation have followed numerous leads over the past decade, never going more than three months without a tip from the public or one of the families, said Stephen Anthony, FBI special agent in charge, at Tuesday’s press conference.
But none of those tips led investigators to the missing girls who are now women – until Berry escaped.
“The real hero here is Amanda,” said Tomba of the Cleveland police. “We are following her lead.”
McGrath said the first priority is the emotional well-being of the three women. Then the police will debrief them to learn exactly how the women came to the house and how they were treated during their captivity, he said Tuesday.
The three women were reunited with their families and treated at MetroHealth Medical Center Monday, and they appeared to be in good health.
"They are able to speak, they are safe, and hospital staff are assessing their needs," said Gerald Maloney, an emergency room physician, at a press briefing Monday. "This is good. This is not the ending we usually see from these stories. So we're very happy."
Investigators believe that the 6-year-old girl found in the house is Berry’s daughter, though they do not know who the father is, Tomba said.
"This is a great, great outcome that we have them still with us," he told reporters Monday. "It's just truly, truly amazing, and it's a blessing to the community and to the members of the police department and their families that they're alive. I can't tell you how happy we are."
• Material from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
In an effort to build support for his second-term agenda, President Obama hit the golf course Monday with two Republican senators – part of what White House spokesman Jay Carney said is a “try anything” approach.
The president left the White House on an overcast Monday at 12:23 p.m. for the 21-minute drive to the golf course at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The golfing foursome included Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, as well as Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado.
The White House acknowledged that the golf excursion was part of its outreach to Republicans in Congress, which also included a dinner with a bipartisan group of women senators and two dinners with Republican senators. The administration is trying to build support for Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda, which includes immigration reform and an agreement to deal with America's fiscal woes.
“He is willing to try anything,” Mr. Carney said at Monday’s press briefing. “And whether it’s a conversation on the phone or a meeting in the Oval Office or a dinner in a restaurant or dinner in the residence, he going to have the same kind of conversations."
The president loves to golf but rarely uses it for political purposes. He has played golf 121 times during his presidency, triggering some criticism, says CBS correspondent Mark Knoller, who tracks presidential activities. But Monday’s outing is only the fourth time he has invited a member of Congress to join his golf foursome, Mr. Knoller says. The other times have been once with House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio and two invitations to Rep. James Clyburn (D) of South Carolina.
Monday’s golfing partners have dual appeal: They are good at the game and seen as key to reaching a bipartisan agreement on a deficit reduction package. Golf Digest’s 2011 survey of Washington’s best golfers ranked Senator Udall 11th, Senator Corker 12th, and Senator Chambliss 37th, according to USA Today’s David Jackson. Obama’s ranking in the same survey: 108th.
Chambliss has made a multiyear effort to craft a bipartisan budget reduction package. So far, as The Wall Street Journal notes, that effort has not led to a grand bargain that Obama seeks. For his part, Corker said in March that he would be open to raising tax revenue as part of a broader deal that makes changes in Social Security and Medicare.
There is no word yet on what progress the golfers made on policy issues. The press pool accompanying the president was able to only briefly observe the golfing action. On the first green, Obama chipped his first shot past the hole and “later appeared to miss a putt,” said pool reporter Bartholomew Sullivan of Scripps Howard News Service.
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In 2010, the tongue-twisting Icelandic volcano wreaked havoc on European air travel, stranding passengers for days as a massive ash plume grounded flights. On Saturday, another volcano in a remote corner of the world – Alaska's Cleveland Volcano – exploded three times in relatively quick succession, sending up its own ash cloud.
Cleveland Volcano – like all the volcanoes in Alaska's Aleutian island chain – sits beneath the flight corridor for jets passing between North America and Asia. That means it could disrupt intercontinental air travel just as Eyjafjallajökull did.
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But for now, scientists watching the event say the ash cloud has reached an altitude of only about 15,000 feet – well below the cruising altitude of commercial jetliners, which fly at about 35,000 feet. As of Sunday morning, there were no reported cancellations, though some flights were being routed farther north as a precaution, according to a Reuters report.
Cleveland Volcano has been in a cycle of increased activity since 2011. Typically, brief outbursts have been followed by calm. But scientists can't be sure whether this eruption will follow that pattern. The three quick explosions was unusual.
Part of the problem is that there is no seismic equipment on the 5,676-foot peak, forcing scientists to monitor it by satellite and with seismic equipment about 50 miles away.
The Aleutians are a bleak and forbidding island chain extending southwest from the Alaskan mainland toward Russia. Cleveland is located on uninhabited Chuginadak Island. The nearest settlement, on an island about 45 miles away, is Nikolski, population 18.
In all Alaska has more than 40 active volcanoes – accounting for 80 percent of the active volcanoes in the United States.
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A southern California wildfire threatened more than 3,000 homes and forced the evacuation of a university on Thursday, burning more than 10,000 acres as it spread down the Pacific Coast.
The Springs Fire was 10 percent contained as of Friday morning, but the Santa Ana winds and extremely dry climate are expected to cause the blaze to grow, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Bill Nash. Six air tankers, which drop thousands of gallons of flame retardant, will resume flights Friday morning after being grounded Thursday because of high winds and radiant heat.
"We've got hot, dirty, unglamorous firefighting work going on right now, guys with shovels trying to scratch out lines on the ground," Captain Nash told NBC News early Friday. "We've got those guys on these steep hillsides in the dark with nothing but the light of the fire and a flashlight."
The fire broke out Thursday morning along US Highway 101 near the city of Camarillo, 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. There have been no reported injuries related to the fire, but 15 homes were damaged Thursday. California State University at Channel Islands in Camarillo allowed on-campus residents to return Friday, but cancelled all classes.
"Where it's burning right now, the population is mostly ranches and camps and rural-type properties," Nash said. "But it doesn't have to go very far to get to some expensive homes and more populated areas. ... It came out literally on the beach and now it's essentially burning down the mountainside toward Malibu."
An outbreak of wildfires in California has marked an early start for fire season, which usually begins in mid-June, fire officials say.
The Summit Fire in Riverside County destroyed an additional home on Thursday, after destroying one home and injuring two firefighters Wednesday. It has been 55 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Another large-scale blaze in northern California consumed 10,000 acres near the remote town of Butte Meadows, but no homes were threatened. That fire is 10 percent contained.
A mixture of conditions – dry vegetation, high temperatures, and low humidity – are fueling the early fire season, Nash of the Ventura County fire department told NBC News.
Friday "may be the hottest day of the week, and the humidity we do expect to plummet," he said. "We’re faced with a situation right now where the vegetation on the hillsides, the moisture level is what we typically see in August."
“This is really dry,” said Stuart Seto, a specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif., in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The fire in Camarillo Springs really jumped up from nothing to 100 acres in no time at all.”
The cause of the fire is not known.
Fire officials are warning people in the area to be prepared to evacuate quickly.
"We advise anybody in the area to be prepared. Wildfires are very unpredictable – we don't know what direction it's going to go," Nash said. "We really want people to be prepared. It's better to do it now before a sheriff's deputy is knocking on your door."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.