A 3-year-old girl whose death was ruled a homicide last fall was the subject of a suspected exorcism at a church in Northern California last year, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
The child, Arely Naomi Proctor, died last September after family members held a ceremony to “rid them of their evil spirits,” church officials told the San Jose Mercury News. The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide caused by asphyxiation.
Police said the girl’s uncle, grandfather and mother, Claudia Hernandez, have been charged with child molestation, which led to her death.reported.
“[Hernandez] strangled her multiple times to the point where the victim passed out, stuck her hands down her throat and continued this behavior for almost a full day,” Assistant District Attorney Rebekah Wise wrote in court documents made available to KRON.
Details of the case were not released at the time, but the newspaper reported it amid a new investigation into the Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, a tiny Pentecostal church in San Jose, following the recent kidnapping of a 3-month-old baby, which police led to search the church.
No evidence relevant to the kidnapping of the child was found at the church, and the church was not part of the case filed with prosecutors, said Officer Steven Aponte, a spokesman for the San Jose Police Department. The baby was found safely in a San Jose apartment several hours after the kidnapping was captured on surveillance video, and police arrested three suspects, including at least one, at least one of whom attended the same church.
The church’s pastor, Rene Huezo, was the 3-year-old’s grandfather and took part in the exorcism, the newspaper reported.
According to court documents, Hernandez told police she believed her daughter was possessed because she “regularly woke up screaming or crying.” She and her brother took the child to the church on Sept. 24, where they were accompanied by Huezo to perform an exorcism, the Mercury News reported.
The girl’s family “believed the child was possessed by a demon and prayed for her in church,” Wise wrote in the court documents obtained by KRON.
Hernandez is accused of holding the girl’s neck, squeezing it and depriving her of food while her father and brother held the child down.
The church operates in a basement in a house in San Jose. Attempts to reach church officials through their social media accounts and church website were not immediately successful.
Huezo said he felt great pain at the death of his grandchild but did not believe the exorcism caused her death.
KRON reported that a video posted to YouTube in January with the girl’s full name, Arely Naomi Proctor Hernandez, appears to show the mother talking about her daughter’s death.
“People can talk, but at the end of the day I know what happened, God knows what happened, and the people who were there when she died know what happened,” she says in the video.