The mother, uncle and grandfather of a 3-year-old California girl who died during a 2021 church exorcism to rid her of evil spirits all face charges in connection with the death, authorities said.
The girl's uncle Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos, 19, and her grandfather, Rene Trigueros Hernandez, 59, were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of felony child abuse causing death, the Santa Clara District Attorney's Office said Friday. Both participated in the 12-hour exorcism in a small, makeshift Pentecostal church in San Jose called Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas in which the child, Arely Naomi Proctor, was smothered and strangled until dying of asphyxia, prosecutors said.
Claudia Hernandez-Santos, 25, the girl's mother, was already charged with felony child abuse. Proctor died on Sept. 24, 2001.
"A child is gone because of unimaginable behavior by the same people who should have been taking care of her," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement.
Officers were called to the church after the girl became unresponsive on the church floor. Hernandez-Santos believed she was possessed by demons because she would wake up in the middle of the night and sometimes scream and cry.
She told investigators that she tried sticking her finger down the girl's throat and squeezed her neck to induce vomiting, prosecutors said. No one called 911 for medical assistance or performed life-saving measures, authorities said.
The police were called one to two hours after the girl's death. She had multiple injuries around her eyes, face, neck and chest, authorities said.
The church operates in the back room of a house and often posts sermons on Youtube, Fox San Francisco reported.
In a 43-minute video posted to YouTube in January, Hernandez-Santos talked about her desire to be a mother and shared stories of her life and daughter. She also addressed her daughter's death.
"Like, I could sit here and be negative… be sad about the whole situation that she passed away, but it’s like, there’s no point, you know, because it is what it is," she said on the video. "It is what it is. You know, she’s not here with me, it is what it is, you know? And it’s like, what’s the point, you know? I’m just going to be… putting myself down when there’s no point for me to do that, you know? Like, I cannot change the past."