Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Man charged with drowning his children made prior threats

Court records show history of suicide attempts; judge denies bail

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A Baltimore judge on Tuesday denied bail to the Rockville father who told police he drowned his three young children in a hotel bathtub on Saturday.

The ruling came as neighbors sought to understand what drove the father to kill his children and as county police review how they handled their initial response to calls from the children’s mother that something was amiss.

Mark Castillo, 41, is being held at the Central Booking and Intake Facility in Baltimore on three counts of first-degree murder and a series of first-degree child abuse and assault charges in the deaths of Anthony, 6, Austin, 4, and Athena, 2. The children lived with their mother, Amy Castillo, in Silver Spring.

Judge Nathan Braverman of the District Court of Maryland in Baltimore City said Tuesday morning that there were ‘‘no conditions of release that would reasonably ensure the defendant’s appearance at trial, as the defendant will now pose a danger to himself or others.”

Natasha Moody, an assistant public defender representing Castillo, said Castillo’s lack of a criminal record and his cooperation with investigators were grounds for release.

‘‘His prior contact and communication with the police indicates that he does not have any intention of avoiding prosecution,” Moody said.

However, previous suicide attempts in 2006 and 2007, as well as Castillo’s questionable mental state following his failed suicide attempt Saturday, were cited by the prosecutor, Assistant State’s Attorney David Chiu, as reasons to deny bail.

Castillo, whose attorney waived his right to appear at the bond hearing, will undergo continuing mental health evaluations, including a suicide risk assessment requested by the state, said Margaret Burns, spokeswoman for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney Office. He will return to court on April 29 for a preliminary hearing.

Mark Castillo had been working part-time as a girls’ gymnastics coach at the Fairland Sports and Aquatics Complex in Laurel since November 2004, said Anita Pesses, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

‘‘This was a complete shock to everyone involved,” she said.

The oldest child, Anthony, was a kindergartner at Forcey Christian School in Fairland. Principal Ken Roussey said the school community was trying to be supportive, sending meals and visitors to the mother’s home.

‘‘We’re all very sad about what took place,” Roussey said. ‘‘We believe that in spite of the horrible way in which they died, that all three children are in heaven.”

The funeral service for the Castillo children will be held 7 p.m. Saturday at McLean Bible Church, 8925 Leesburg Pike, McLean, Va.

Friends and neighbors of the family have expressed disbelief of Castillo’s actions, despite recent revelations of his history of mental illness and previous threats to harm the children.

‘‘You can’t imagine something like this happening in your neighborhood,” said Ron Williams, a Silver Spring neighbor of Amy Castillo. ‘‘He was friendly enough to wave when he would drive by. ... You just don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives, and the toll divorce can take on people.”

At about 1:15 p.m. Sunday, Mark Castillo, of the 11100 block of Schuylkill Road in Rockville, called the front desk of the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards to report that he had drowned his three children one by one and planned to commit suicide, said Detective Nicole Monroe, a spokeswoman with the Baltimore Police Department.

Once officers arrived, they found the bodies of the three children on a bed and Castillo with self-inflicted wounds on his neck and pills at his side, said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Baltimore police.

Amy Castillo called the Montgomery County Police twice between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday, and again on Sunday around 9 a.m. to report that her husband was late in returning the children to Silver Spring after his scheduled visitation, said Lt. Paul Starks, a spokesman with Montgomery County Police. Following the first call, officers searched Mark Castillo’s home, and did so again on Sunday after a visit with Amy Castillo.

‘‘Although we believe our actions were within the law and our own protocol, we’re looking at our actions to determine if there is anything that could have, or should have been done to prevent this tragedy,” Starks said.

Court documents show that Amy Castillo had fought to keep the children away from her former husband. In a protective order petition filed December 2006, she wrote that he had threatened that ‘‘the worst thing he could do to me would be to kill the children and not me, so I could live without them.”

In the petition, she describes an episode where Mark Castillo was ‘‘driving around the country living in his car and threatening to kill himself.” Shortly after, he was committed to a psychiatric unit for a week and diagnosed with a mood disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, according to Montgomery County Circuit Court documents.

In an evaluation prepared by psychologist C. David Missar earlier that year, Missar wrote that Castillo had refused to take antidepressants and mood-stabilizing medications after purchasing poison and a knife with which to commit suicide around his 40th birthday.

While Missar wrote in the documents that Castillo posed a low risk to his children, in his discussions with him, Castillo ‘‘expressed a great deal of residual anger at his wife for taking their children.”

Amy Castillo was given a temporary protective order, but her request for a permanent order was rejected on Jan. 10, 2007, by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Joseph A. Dugan Jr. The couple has been divorced since February, and Mark Castillo had retained visitation rights, according to court documents.

Before their divorce, Castillo had been a stay-at-home dad while his wife worked as a pediatrician for Kaiser Permanente. Amy Goodwin, the spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente for the mid-Atlantic region, said the medical group would have no further comment out of respect for Amy Castillo and her family.

Staff Writer Jason Tomassini contributed to this story.