Uncle, Grandfather Arrested in ‘Exorcism’ that Killed Toddler at San Jose Church

A 3-year-old girl died last fall after family members performed a ceremony to “liberate her of her evil spirits” at a small church in San Jose

UPDATE: May 16 — The uncle and grandfather of a 3-year-old San Jose girl were arrested in connection with an “exorcism” that killed her last fall, according to the San Jose Police Department.

Authorities initially arrested the toddler’s mother, 25-year-old Claudia Hernandez, on Jan. 31 and charged her with child abuse leading to the death of the victim, police said Friday in a news statement.

But on May 11, police also arrested the child’s grandfather, Rene Trigueros Hernandez, 59— who was a preacher at the church where the exorcism happened—and her uncle, 19-year-old Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos, on suspicion of child abuse causing death, according to the news release.

May 12 — A 3-year-old girl whose death last fall has been ruled a homicide was allegedly killed in an exorcism in a backroom church in San Jose, according to San Jose Mercury News.

The child, Arely Naomi Proctor, died last September after family members performed a ceremony to “liberate her of her evil spirits,” officials at Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, a tiny Pentecostal church in San Jose, told Mercury News. The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s office ruled her death a homicide caused by asphyxia due to suffocation.

The victim’s mother, Claudia Hernandez, 25, was arrested and charged with assault on a child resulting in death. Court records show she was charged in February. She is being held without bail at Elmwood Correctional Women’s Facility in Milpitas.

According to court documents, Hernandez told police she started to believe her child was possessed on Sept. 23, 2021, when the girl would “wake up and scream or cry periodically.” That evening, Hernandez and her brother gathered in a bedroom at her house and prayed for the girl while withholding food from her, Mercury News reports.

Before sunrise the next morning, Hernandez and her relative took the child to the church, which is located in a backroom of a multi-family house, and began the so-called exorcism. They were joined by Hernandez’ father, Rene Huezo, who is a pastor at the church.

During the incident, Hernandez and her relatives took turns trying to force the girl to vomit by withholding food from her, sticking a finger down her throat and squeezing her neck in an effort to rid her body of an evil spirit, according to court documents, Mercury News reports.

The toddler died about 6 p.m. that evening, roughly 12 hours after arriving at the church, Hernandez told authorities, the newspaper said. However, she waited an hour to two hours after the child’s death to call 911.

Speaking to Mercury News, Rene Huezo, Arely’s grandfather, said what happened was “the will of God” and does not believe the exorcism caused her death.

Another preacher at the church, Oscar Ayala, who was not present during the incident, told the newspaper, “We know we haven’t done anything dark, and we know that we have a clean conscience, that we haven’t done any harm, that we haven’t provoked the death of the girl.”

A YouTube video titled “Arely Naomi Proctor Hernandez” uploaded in January—four months after the toddler died—appears to show the mother talking about her daughter’s death.

In the 43-minute video the woman said, “A lot of people turned on me after my daughter passed away. A lot of people thought a lot of things because of how that situation looked.”

She added that she doesn’t worry too much about what other people think “because God knows the truth.”

She said that although she misses her daughter, she isn’t going to be “sad about the whole situation that she passed away, but there’s no point because it is what it is.”

The church made headlines last month when two people, including an attendee of the church, were arrested and charged with the kidnapping of a 3-month-old baby.

The baby’s grandmother and one of the suspects, Yesenia Ramirez, had met at the church and Ramirez reportedly became “obsessed” with the baby, KTVU reported. The baby was found safe and uninjured.

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