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Mother, uncle, grandfather arrested in San Jose toddler death during exorcism

SAN JOSE -- The mother, uncle and grandfather of a three-year-old girl were charged with child abuse leading to her death at a makeshift church in San Jose last year, police said Friday.

Officers responded on September 24 at about 8:12 p.m to the 1000 block of South 2nd Street to a report of a child's death at a home that housed a church on the property, San Jose police said. They found the victim unresponsive on the floor of the church and began life-saving measures. The girl was taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

An investigation by the police department's homicide unit and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office determined three suspects responsible for the death of the girl, identified in court documents as Arely Doe. They were identified as the girl's mother, Claudia Hernandez-Santos, uncle Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos, and grandfather Rene Trigueros Hernandez who identified himself to police as the leader of the church and a certified pastor. 

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(L-R) Claudia Hernandez-Santos, Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos, Rene Trigueros Hernandez San Jose Police Department

During the initial investigation at the scene, officers were told by the suspects that they believed the child was possessed by a demon. According to an SJPD statement of facts, the mother told officers she attempted to stick a finger down the girl's throat to induce vomiting, and said the girl fell asleep several times while she pushed down on her throat with her hand.

The statement of facts also said the girl's uncle and grandfather held down the girl while the mother tried to repeatedly induce vomiting which they believed would rid her of the evil spirits. The three also took turns in holding her down and trying to get her to vomit, the statement said.

"All 3 defendants were involved in the ongoing abuse of Arely Doe on September 24th.  So, while each did specific acts, they were all involved in this abuse and they were all present when the other individuals were abusing Arely Doe," Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Rebekah Wise said Friday. 

"Arely Doe was strangled multiple times to the point of unconsciousness.  Arely Doe had fingers shoved down her throat to the point where she had multiple injuries to her mouth and her tongue.  She had pressure put on her body with so much force that she lost consciousness," Wise went on to say.

Police said the girl died around 6 p.m., about 12 hours after first arriving at the church. Nearly two hours passed before the mother called 911 at the urging of other family members, according to a police report. 

"There was a delay in time before officers and emergency personnel were contacted. The reasoning behind that is obviously part of the investigation," said Officer Steve Aponte at a press conference Friday. "We're still trying to wonder why anybody would delay in calling first responders at any sign of illness of a child, or illness or death of a child."

Raw Video: SJPD update on exorcism death investigation 08:50

The initial investigation determined the death was a homicide with a cause of death being asphyxia due to suffocation.

Claudia Hernandez-Santos was arrested on January 31 and formally charged with child abuse leading to the death of her daughter. On Wednesday, officers arrested Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos and Trigueros Hernandez, also on the same charges.

Aponte said Friday the arrests of Rene Hernandez-Santos and Trigueros Hernandez came a day after the release of the full coroner's report on the girl's death. 

Claudia Hernandez-Santos's arrest in January came four days after she posted a 43-minute video on YouTube discussing a number of topics related to her daughter but avoided talking about the circumstances of her death, at one point saying, "It is what it is."

"People could talk, but at the end of the day, I know what happened," says Hernandez-Santos in the video. "God knows what happened, and the people that were there when she passed away knows what happened."

ARELY NAOMI PROCTOR HERNANDEZ. by Elisaa Santos on YouTube

People with information about this case or similar incidents involving the suspects were urged to contact Detective Sergeant Vallejo #3810 or Detective Harrington #4365 of the Homicide Unit with any information about this incident at (408) 277-4166 or e-mail 3810@sanjoseca.gov or 4365@sanjoseca.gov.

Len Ramirez contributed reporting.

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