Mother Living Out A Nightmare

Amy Castillo Copes With The Deaths Of Her Children At The Hands Of Her Husband

October 25, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

Just a few months after her husband drowned their three children, Amy Castillo found herself standing on top of a mountain during a Christian missionary trip to China, winds whipping, rain pouring down.

She asked herself a question: "Can I live with this?"

A long time passed before she could honestly answer.

The man she once playfully called "sexy thing," who swept her off her feet and quickly became her best friend, had gradually vanished over the past five years. In his place was a manic, suicidal stranger who spent entire nights at Baltimore strip clubs, blew thousands of dollars in wild shopping sprees and accused her of being self-righteous and manipulative.

A "wolf in sheep's clothing" was how he described himself, a longtime family friend said.

On Saturday, March 29, 2008, Mark Castillo showed up at Amy's modest Silver Spring house, which they once shared, to pick up their children for a scheduled visit. The couple had been separated for nearly two years by then and were going through a difficult divorce in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Mark was clean-shaven and wearing a nice shirt, looking better than he had in months, Amy thought. He loaded the two boys - Anthony, 6, and Austin, 4 - along with 2-year-old Athena into the family minivan and drove north, to Baltimore.

The dark-haired quartet spent the day at the Maryland Science Center before checking into the Camden Yards Marriott. They ate dinner - room service - then Mark set the boys up with a computer game and took Athena into the bathroom to draw a bath.

He held her tiny frame under the water for a full 10 minutes, timed with a stopwatch, until he was sure she was dead. He repeated the act with each of the boys, then tried to kill himself that night with an over-the-counter pain reliever and, on Sunday, with a knife.

When Mark and the children failed to return Saturday night by the court-required time, Amy called the police twice and once again Sunday morning. But she was told there was nothing they could do. Call back if the family didn't show up by Monday.

Then, sometime Sunday afternoon, an officer came to her door. "Come with us, we found everyone," he said.

Amy felt relief first, then a sliver of "gotcha" as the officer drove her and her friend, Cheryl Wharton, to the Baltimore police station. She might be able to use this out-all-night stunt against Mark in custody proceedings, she thought.

It wasn't until hours later that she learned her children were dead.

Standing on that mountain in China, beneath a callous monsoon sky, Amy didn't know if she had the strength or will to survive her grief. If she died, she would be reunited with her children in heaven. If she lived, there would be more pain: Mark's trial, the empty house, an unknown future.

She thought hard and opened her mind to God.

Good, bad dogs

In a two-hour interview six days after her former husband pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court to three counts of first-degree murder, Amy Castillo, a 44-year-old pediatrician, recounted the details of their lives together. It was Oct. 20, which would have been Austin's sixth birthday.

Mark used to say that there was a good dog and a bad dog "fighting" inside him, and he had to remember to feed the good dog, Amy said. But often, he forgot.

Even after he confessed to the killings, he led the courts in circles, claiming insanity, then clear-headed health. He fought the divorce he asked for, and argued with judges and his attorneys. His plea itself was a surprise, willingly accepted by the judge, who also recommended that Mark be allowed to serve his time - three life sentences - at a mental health correctional facility.

Amy's friends say she still has trouble focusing. She's on disability and sees counselors three times per week. And her nightmares are still strong, worse now after fresh details about the deaths appeared in the newspapers.

But she's learning to cope and even forgive, she said, as God has forgiven her.

"I could always have one foot in the grave, and I sometimes want to," she said. But her faith, her friends and her family won't let her. "I have a good base."

'I flip 4 doc'

Amy grew up in Alexandria, Va., with good, solid parents. Her mother died a few years ago, but she still leans heavily on her dad, who gives her faith in men even now, she said.

At 15, she made up her mind to follow Jesus.

She graduated from the Medical College of Virginia in 1991 and went on to a pediatrics residency at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where she would soon meet her future husband, a traveling gymnast passing through town.

Mark Anthony Castillo was born the third of five children and raised in East Los Angeles by his mother, who disciplined him more than her other children, he once told a psychologist. That evaluation report is filed in a Montgomery County court. In it, he claims to have an IQ of 140.

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