Service honors young victims

The Baltimore Sun

VIENNA, Va. -- On a stage before nearly a thousand mourners, the violinists played notes of elegant sorrow.

Dr. Amy Ashley Castillo would normally have played alongside them.

Last evening though, she sat below in an auditorium at McLean Bible Church, where she and the community mourned the lost lives of her children: Anthony Nathaniel, 6; Austin Robert, 4; and Athena Faye, 2.

A week ago, their father, Mark A. Castillo, 41, said he drowned them in the bathtub of a hotel room at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Mark Castillo, who told police a divorce and custody battle with his estranged wife had propelled him to kill his children, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

The children's deaths have drawn attention to what critics call a flawed legal system. Judges in Montgomery County had denied requests by Amy Castillo, a 42-year-old Silver Spring pediatrician, for a protective order and an end to visitation rights for Mark Castillo.

But there was no mention of him yesterday, as song and poetry filled the hall.

The Rev. Ezekiel Wharton, an administrator of the Forcey Christian School, which the two boys attended, spoke of holding on to faith, even in this excruciating moment. He encouraged the crowd to stand and show their support for the wounded mother.

"Amy, look around. Look around here," Wharton said. "We will not forget about you, and be there for you, however you need us, because we love you."

The minister's wife, Cheryl Wharton, who has comforted Amy Castillo in the days since the deaths, read a poem titled "God's Three Little Angels," written by Janine Castillo, who is Mark Castillo's grown daughter from a previous marriage.

With the end of the funeral services, attention will once again turn to the legal system as it deals with Castillo, who is charged with drowning the children, laying their bodies on a bed and attempting suicide - swallowing 100 Motrin pills and cutting himself in the neck with a steak knife.

Castillo awoke the next afternoon and called the hotel's front desk, police said.

"I know what I did was bad," Castillo told medics who arrived at the Marriott hotel at the Inner Harbor minutes later, according to charging documents. "I did it. I drowned the kids last night around 6."

The couple's stormy relationship began in South Carolina, where the newly minted doctor met the trampoline and gymnastics performer who would become her husband in 1998.

In a voluminous court file detailing their custody and divorce battle, Amy Castillo seemed a woman intent on protecting her children from a father who - according to his wife and mental health professionals - was struggling with mental illness.

The court filings portray Mark Castillo as a father desperate to stay in his children's lives, mounting an aggressive defense to questions about his mental stability and his wife's efforts to limit his access to the children.

Montgomery County judges denied her requests.

Several times, according to court filings, Mark Castillo had threatened to take his life.

"The defendant has not only threatened to commit suicide but also, placed bracelets on the arm of each child as she/he was sleeping on June 25, 2006 as a remembrance of him after his imminent death," read a court motion filed by an attorney for Amy Castillo in her effort to seek full custody of the children.

Days later, he called his wife from a Virginia Days Inn and threatened to take his life with a utility knife, ant poison and duct tape he had bought at Home Depot. Subsequently, he was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital.

As a doctor with a six-figure salary, Amy Castillo was the breadwinner. He was stressed and overwhelmed, according to court documents, by his role as a stay-at-home dad. He began spending money frivolously and going to strip clubs.

"She had so much control over me. ... I was so dependent on her," Mark Castillo said during a court-ordered psychological evaluation.

He would petition the court several times for alimony. At one time, Amy Castillo was ordered to pay her husband $500 a month and pay for his court-ordered counseling, which were a condition for visiting his children.

Amy Castillo's legal bills mounted. She borrowed from relatives, and she had to hire a nanny to watch the children while she worked.

After an argument over $130,000 in proceeds from a refinancing of their Silver Spring home to pay off outstanding debts, she told authorities he had made an ominous threat.

"He did tell me that the worst thing he would do to me would be to kill the children, and not me, so that I could live without them," she wrote in seeking an emergency protective order on Christmas Day 2006.

On the day the children were drowned, Mark Castillo was on a court-ordered visit. When they didn't return by 8:30 that night, Amy Castillo called the police.

The children were already dead.

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