3 children killed at city hotel

A Montgomery County father engaged in a custody battle brought his three children to an Inner Harbor hotel and apparently killed them yesterday, Baltimore police said.

The bodies were discovered after the man called hotel security about 1:15 p.m. from his 10th-floor room at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards, saying that he had killed his children and was considering harming himself, said Officer Troy Harris, a city police spokesman.

When security personnel entered the room, police said, they found the three dead children: Anthony Castillo, 6; Austin Castillo, 4; and Athena Castillo, 2.

Their father, identified by police as Mark Castillo, 41, was taken to University of Maryland Medical Center with what appeared to be minor self-inflicted cuts, authorities said.

Sterling Clifford, a police spokesman, said homicide detectives are investigating the possibility that the children were drowned, suffocated or strangled. Clifford said they were not shot or stabbed.

"There is some evidence that something happened in the bathroom. What that is, I do not know," he said late last night. Detectives were awaiting autopsy results. Clifford said it was likely that Castillo would be charged overnight.

Police executed a search warrant yesterday at Mark Castillo's home in Montgomery County.

Castillo's estranged wife, Amy Castillo, also lives in Montgomery County, a police source said. She was interviewed by detectives last night.

Mark and Amy Castillo were separated, and online court records indicate that they have been involved in a long-running custody battle in Montgomery County.

In the Silver Spring neighborhood where Amy Castillo lives on Waterford Road, the lights were on throughout a two-story brick house, though no one responded to knocks on the door. A shattered window by the door was held together with duct tape.

Neighbors, just learning of the news, reacted with horror. One next-door neighbor who identified herself as a friend burst into tears, sank down in her doorway and sobbed upon hearing about the deaths.

The news generated similar dismay in Baltimore. Mayor Sheila Dixon slipped out of a community meeting at a Little Italy restaurant yesterday afternoon to take cell phone calls about the dead children. She returned minutes later and spoke with emotion in her voice.

"There are some things we have no control over," she told the crowd of about 100, referring to the killings.

Dixon and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III are expected to hold a news conference today at police headquarters.

Clifford, the police spokesman, said Mark Castillo seemed to have "some history" of domestic violence. Court records show a domestic dispute between him and Amy Castillo in December 2006.

They had been sharing custody of three minor children since mid-2006, when Amy Castillo filed divorce papers, according to court records. A judge had ordered that Mark Castillo's visits with the children be supervised.

In September 2006, a Montgomery County circuit judge ordered that Mark Castillo undergo a psychological review, and later court entries show that he was undergoing therapy. But that December, when domestic violence issues emerged, a court ordered that Mark Castillo leave the home and have no contact with Amy Castillo.

In June 2007, Amy Castillo filed an emergency motion to prevent Mark Castillo from having access to the children, records show. The outcome was unclear, but Mark Castillo filed motions to enforce a visitation agreement. Another court date was set for May.

Lt. Paul Starks, a Montgomery County police spokesman, said "there was an active agreement for visitation, and he and she were working with that." He added that county police had "a limited role in this."

Reached by phone yesterday, Amy Castillo's attorney, John R. Tjaden, did not know about the deaths and declined to comment.

One of the family's neighbors, Keith Lamirande, 41, said he didn't see the family much.

"Cop cars would be called out there with quite a level of frequency ... for what I assume was domestic problems," said Lamirande, who has lived in the area six years. Police were at the home last week, he added, recalling two police cars rushing to the house.

Property records, which valued the home near Indian Spring Village at more than $450,000 in 2007, indicate that it is owned by Amy Castillo.

At one point yesterday, two men were seen inside, opening the door for six people just arriving.

Maria and Octave Habesch, who live on the street, knew the family and said they had been neighbors for a while.

Maria Habesch, 79, said she last saw the children Friday, playing in front of the house with other kids. She hadn't seen Mark Castillo in two years, she said, but described him as very friendly.

"He was always very polite to us, always acknowledging me," she said.

"I can't believe it - the kids," she said. "They were such a lovely family. ... Oh, beautiful kids."

Yesterday afternoon at the Marriott, city police officers, hotel security and red-uniformed bellhops stood in the lobby to prevent nonguests from entering the building. A homicide detective interviewed one man in a chair, while people checked in at the front desk.

Top police commanders, including Bealefeld and Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, came to the scene. Detectives were getting a search warrant to collect evidence from the room Mark Castillo checked into Saturday.

Outside, police cruisers lined West Lombard and Eutaw streets, where the hotel is located, along with a firetruck and two ambulances. Employees from the neighboring Holiday Inn, as well as curious passers-by, stood on the sidewalk, speculating as to what might have happened.

Larry Laguda, a cabdriver, said he was standing in front of the hotel when police cars arrived in large numbers.

Laguda said he went to the hotel door to find out what was going on. In the six or so years he's driven in the area, he said, he's never seen "something of this magnitude."

He was shocked to hear that three children were killed, and shook his head in disbelief.

Several guests who had come to the hotel yesterday for a brunch with radio station WSMJ shared his reaction.

Hotel officials declined to comment, citing the police investigation.

"We cannot divulge any information at this time," said Cornel Jones, director of security.

Over the past few years, there have been several incidents in Maryland involving fathers or other relatives accused of killing young children.

Last month, a West Baltimore man said "demons" made him throw his 3-year-old son off the Key Bridge. Stephen Todd Nelson, 37, was charged with first-degree murder. He and the child's mother, Natisha Johnson, had battled in court over custody and visitation issues.

At Thanksgiving, David Peter Brockdorff, 40, killed his former wife, her three children and himself with a .22-caliber rifle. The bodies were found in a Montgomery County park. The couple had divorced.

In March last year, four children were found dead in their Frederick County house. Their father, Pedro Rodriguez, 28, was found hanged in the foyer.

In May 2004, three Mexican children were killed in Northwest Baltimore. Two older family members were convicted of the killings and are serving two consecutive life sentences without parole.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com nicole.fuller@baltsun.com annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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