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Mother, Uncle, And Grandfather Charged After 3-Year-Old Dies During Alleged 12-Hour Exorcism-Style Ritual

Claudia Hernandez believed her daughter, Arely, was "possessed by an evil spirit" because the toddler would wake up and scream and cry, according to authorities in Santa Clara, California.

The mother and family members involved with the murder

Three people have been charged after a toddler died as part of what authorities have described as a religious exorcism-style ritual that included 12 hours of torture.

Claudia Hernandez, the victim's mother, was one of three relatives involved in the death of a child identified as "Arely Doe,” 3, according to an affidavit sent to Oxygen.com by the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office. The documents state Arely died in September at a small San Jose church after family members allegedly engaged in disturbing acts in order to cast “a demon” from the child.

Hernandez, 25, was arrested on Jan. 31 on charges of felony assault on a child with force likely to produce great bodily injury or death, court records show.

The San Jose Police Department announced Friday that the other relatives included Arely’s uncle Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos, 19, and grandfather Rene Trigueros Hernandez, 59. They were also charged with child abuse leading to death.

Police officers responded to the small church on Sept. 24, after the mother called authorities at 8:12 p.m. to report that her daughter had passed away. According to Friday’s press release, officers found Arely unresponsive on the church floor.

Despite life-saving measures by responders, she was pronounced dead at the Valley Medical Center at 8:59 p.m, according to the affidavit.

Preliminary findings revealed Arely died of asphyxia. According to the charging documents, the child hadn’t eaten since around 9:00 p.m. the previous day and had only had 6 ounces of water between her last meal and her death.

The victim also had “multiple injuries” around her face, neck, eyes, and chest.

Claudia Hernandez told investigators shortly after the child’s death that she believed her daughter was “possessed by an evil spirit” because “the victim would wake up and scream or cry periodically,” according to a statement of facts signed by Police Sergeant J.J. Vallejo.

“Defendant stated she attempted to stick her finger down the victim’s throat and squeezed the victim’s neck to induce vomiting,” stated Vallejo. “The victim fell asleep several times while Defendant pushed down on the victim’s throat with her hand.”

The mother explained that she and the child’s uncle had driven to the small San Jose church at around 6:30 on the morning of Arely's death. She and the uncle then tried to get the victim to vomit, “which she believed would help her get the spirit out.”

Court documents state the grandfather arrived later.

“[The] victim’s grandfather was identified as the leader of the Church and claimed he was a certified pastor,” Vallejo stated.

The three relatives allegedly took turns holding the child’s neck, abdomen, and legs while trying to induce vomiting.

“Eventually, the victim vomited a clear/purple liquid,” charging documents stated. “Defendant believed the victim died sometime between 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.”

Authorities alleged that no life-saving measures were attempted by the three relatives, who waited about two hours to call 911.

Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Rebekah Wise urged a judge to deny Hernandez’s bail because of her “minimal ties to the community,” citing the defendant’s roots in her native El Salvador, according to KRON-TV.

“She strangled her [daughter] 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,” said Wise.

The church where Arely died was also recently subjected to a raid by police in the search for kidnapped infant Brandon Cuellar. According to KRON-TV, the suspects in that case are accused of kidnapping the 3-month-old after meeting the child’s grandmother at the church.

The baby was found safe by police and returned home.

Records show Claudia Hernandez is being held at the Elmwood Correctional Facility without bail. If convicted, she faces 25 years to life in prison.

Police ask that anyone with information about Arely’s death or similar incidents contact Sergeant Vallejo or Detective Harrington of the Homicide Unit at 1-408-277-4166. They can also be reached at 3810@sanjoseca.gov or 4365@sanjoseca.gov.

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