A 3-year-old girl whose death last fall has been ruled a homicide was the subject of an alleged exorcism last year at a Northern California church, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
The child, Arely Naomi Proctor, died last September after family members performed a ceremony to “liberate her of her 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.
The girl’s mother, Claudia Hernandez, was charged with assault on a child resulting in death. The Associated Press could not immediately determine whether Hernandez has an attorney.
“She strangled her multiple times to the point where the victim went unconscious, she stuck her hands down her throat, and continued this course of conduct for almost a full day,” deputy district attorney Rebekah Wise wrote in court documents obtained by KRON.
Details of the case were not made public at the time but the newspaper reported on it amid new scrutiny on the Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, a tiny Pentecostal church in San Jose, following the recent kidnapping of a 3-month-old baby that led police to search the church.
No evidence was found in the church that was relevant to the child’s abduction and the church was not part of the case submitted to the district attorney’s office, said Officer Steven Aponte, a spokesman for the San Jose Police Department. The baby was found safe in a San Jose apartment several hours after the abduction was captured on surveillance video, and police arrested three suspects, including at least one of whom attended the same church.
The church pastor, Rene Huezo, was the grandfather of the 3-year-old and took part in the exorcism but has not been charged, the newspaper reported.
According to court records, Hernandez told police she believed her daughter was possessed because she would “wake up and scream or cry periodically.” She and her brother brought the child to the church on Sept. 24 where they were joined by Huezo to perform an exorcism, the Mercury News reported.
The girl’s family “believed the child was possessed by a demon and were at the church praying for her,” 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 out of a basement in a San Jose home. Attempts to reach church officials through their social media accounts and the church website were not immediately successful.
Huezo said he feels a lot of pain at the death of his grandchild but does not believe the exorcism caused her death.
KRON reported that a video posted on YouTube in January — titled 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 that were there when she passed away know what happened,” she says in the video.