San Jose

Police Arrest 2 More in Apparent Exorcism Death of Young Child Inside a San Jose Church

According to court documents first obtained by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit, the girl’s mother and uncle brought the child to the church last September

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San Jose police have arrested two more family members of a young girl killed during an apparent exorcism inside a small San Jose church.

The child’s grandfather, Rene Trigueros Hernandez, as well as her uncle, Rene Aaron-Hernandez Santos, were booked into Santa Clara County Jail Thursday on suspicion of felony child abuse leading to death, according to police. 

Hernandez is a pastor at the church where the girl died last September, and can be seen on videos posted to YouTube delivering fiery sermons to a small congregation.

San Jose police provide an update on two more family members arrested in the death of a young girl during an apparent exorcism inside a small San Jose church.
San Jose police provide an update on two more family members arrested in the death of a young girl during an apparent exorcism inside a small San Jose church.

Authorities say the girl suffocated during an exorcism-type ceremony performed by the girl's family, who told police they were trying to drive an evil spirit from her body.

The church where she died is the same one that was searched last month after 3-month-old baby Brandon Cuellar was kidnapped from a San Jose home. The church is known as la Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas and its members meet inside a back room of an East San Jose home.

San Jose PD
Rene Hernandez Santos (left) and Rene Trigueros Hernandez

The girl’s mother, Claudia Hernandez, was arrested in January on felony child abuse charges and remains in custody without bail. She declined NBC Bay Area's request to speak with her from jail.

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s Office recently ruled the girl’s death a homicide, concluding she died from asphyxia due to suffocation.

San Jose PD
Claudia Hernandez-Santos

According to court documents first obtained by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit, the girl’s mother and uncle brought her to the church last September, believing she was possessed by a demon because she would sometimes wake up at night screaming or crying.

According to the family's statement to police, the three family members held the girl down for seven hours, repeatedly forcing her to throw up in an attempt to, they say, rid her body of the evil spirit.

Hernandez also choked her daughter several times during the attempted exorcism to the point the child lost consciousness, according to a written opposition to Hernandez's pre-trial release filed by prosecutors.

Police say the family waited two hours after her death to call 911 and that nobody in the family attempted any life-saving measures. Responding officers found the girl unresponsive on the floor of the church, according to police.

When police arrived, they found the girl with multiple injuries around her eyes, face, neck and chest, according to court records from the mother’s criminal case. Police say the victim was given nothing except about six ounces of water during the 20-or-so hours leading up to her death.

Earlier this week, NBC Bay Area confirmed Hernandez posted a video on YouTube talking about her child’s death. In the video, Hernandez doesn’t reveal details about the alleged exorcism, but she talks about how people turned their backs on her after what happened to her daughter.  

“I could sit here and be negative and say ‘I wish I could go back.’ But there’s no point of me doing that. Because I cannot change what is. It is what it is," said the woman in the video, which was recorded months after the child’s death.

She was arrested a few days after the video was posted.

The uncle and grandfather are due in court later today.

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