Mother of 3-Year-Old Girl Who Died at SJ Church Talks About Daughter
A woman speaking in a video posted to YouTube is the mother of the girl who died inside a back-room San Jose church in September, sources confirmed Tuesday.
Police say the 3-year-old girl was a victim of child abuse, as members of the church tried to ward off “evil spirits.”
Investigators said it happened from an exorcism-like ritual done by her family.
“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 weeks after the child’s death.
The victim’s mother, Claudia Hernandez, was arrested in January on felony child abuse charges, just a few days after the video was posted.
According to court documents, Hernandez took the girl to the church 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, three family members held the girl down for seven hours. Investigators said no one called 911 until at least two hours after the child died.
The medical examiner’s office concluded the cause of death was asphyxia due to suffocation.
The young girl’s death was just recently ruled a homicide.
“When she passed away, she was with me,” Hernandez said in the video. “Of course, I’m her mom. Why would she not go with me?”
In the 43-minute video Hernandez posted, she talks multiple times about her little girl without specifically talking about how she died.
“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 said in the video. “But like I said, if you weren’t there, you don’t know what happened.”
The church where she died is the same one that was searched two weeks ago after 3-month-old baby Brandon Cuellar was kidnapped from a home.
The suspect in that case is a member of the church.
“It is exceedingly rare in the United States to hear about these kinds of stories,” said Christopher Moreman, chair of philosophy and religious studies at CSU East Bay.
He said stories of these exorcism-type rituals gone wrong emerge from time to time, typically in fringe churches.
“All of the religions you can think of practice exorcisms, and the more established the tradition is, the more likely they are to have the training that teaches the priest to recognize the signs of psychological and emotional distress that would avoid this exact kind of situation from happening,” said Moreman.
Hernandez is being held in jail without bail. She denied request for an interview.