'Exorcism' Death of 3-Year-Old Girl Leads to Arrest of Mother, Grandfather and Uncle

Rene Triguero Hernandez, left, Claudia Hernandez and Rene Hernandez-Santos were arrested by San Jose Police officers.Handouts

Little Arely Naomi Proctor was smothered and choked for more than 12 hours by relatives who believed they were expelling an "evil demon," prosecutors said.

A 3-year-old California girl who died during a ritual to expel an "evil demon" has led to the arrests of her mother, grandfather in San Jose on felony charges, authorities said.

Arely Naomi Proctor died last September after relatives performed a ceremony lasting more than 12 hours in which they shoved fingers down her throat, deprived her of food and water, and pressed her chest and back, prosecutors said. The Santa Clara County medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide caused by asphyxiation.

“A child is gone because of unimaginable behavior by the same people who should have been taking care of her," Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said at a Friday press conference.

The girl's mother, Claudia Hernandez, was arrested Jan. 31 and charged with assault on a child resulting in death. She has been jailed without bail since then.

Rene Trigueros Hernandez, 59, and Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos, 19, were charged after evidence showed that they were active participants in the 12-hour-long “exorcism” at a small, makeshift church, according to prosecutors.

The grandfather and uncle were charged Friday with child abuse causing death. They are being held without bond. Their first court appearance has been scheduled for Thursday afternoon, according to online records.

Each faces life in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

The elder Hernandez, also known as Rene Huezo, is the pastor of a small group of Pentecostal worshippers calling themselves Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, who meet in a San Jose house, authorities said. 

The mother allegedly told police she believed her daughter was possessed because the child would "wake up and scream or cry periodically," according to court documents. She and her brother brought the child to the house on Sept. 24, 2021, where their father met them, authorities said.

For the next 12 hours, the mother said she attempted to stick her finger down her daughter's throat to make her vomit, and that the child "fell asleep several times" while she pushed down on her throat with her hand, court documents show.

“She was held against her will, and she struggled against her abusers the whole time,” said Deputy District Attorney Rebekah Wise of the prosecutor's office of the Family Violence Unit. “This abuse lasted over twelve hours, and after Arely’s death, it took more than one hour for the defendants to call 911,” Wise said Friday.

The 3-year-old “was strangled multiple times to the point of unconsciousness, she had fingers shoved down her throat to the point she had multiple injuries to her mouth and to her tongue, and she had pressure put on her body, on her torso from the front and back, with so much force applied that she lost consciousness,” Wise said.

An autopsy found extensive bruising to the girl's face, neck and back, and internal bleeding in her heart, bowel, and pancreas, caused by the chest pressure, the district attorney's office said.

The disturbing case is not the first criminal investigation involving fundamentalist worshippers at Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, police said.

Last week, authorities announced that two people charged with kidnapping a 3-month-old boy on April 25 had tried several times before to take the baby, prosecutors said.

Investigators said they discovered that Yesenia Ramirez, 43, and Jose Portillo, 28, plotted and unsuccessfully attempted to kidnap the infant at least three other times, dating back weeks before the actual abduction, prosecutors said.

One alleged incident involved Portillo impersonating a Child Protective Services worker and showing up at the family's house, demanding the baby be released to his custody, prosecutors said. Relatives refused to give him the infant, authorities said.

Both suspects have been charged with additional, attempted kidnapping counts, the district attorney said Thursday.

“There are few things more terrifying than someone stealing a child, as if they’re a car or a wallet,” said D.A. Rosen. “The more we investigate this case and the more troubling it gets, the more determined we are to prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”

Both defendants are being held without bail, according to online records. 

"There’s a difference between allegations and facts. We have allegations right now. The actual factual evidence that underlies these charges has not been provided," Ramirez's defense attorney, Cody Salfen, told KTVU-TV. 

A plea hearing is scheduled for June 7, according to online records.

Authorities said Ramirez had befriended the baby's grandmother at the makeshift San Jose church, where both attended. A motive for the alleged kidnapping has not been publicly disclosed.

"It’s absolutely shocking. This is any parent's worst nightmare," said Deputy District Attorney Wise.

The two cases appear to be unrelated, police said.

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