Dark spotlight shines on tiny San Jose church after child exorcism death and high-profile infant kidnapping

Dark spotlight shines on tiny San Jose church after child exorcism death and high-profile infant kidnapping
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By Wesley Severson - Published on May 13, 2022.

Two high-profile crimes in San Jose appear to have a couple of things in common. A tiny, charismatic church inside a home in the O’Brien Tract neighborhood has been connected to both investigations, and both crimes involved very young children, one of which was a brazen kidnapping in April. In the other incident, a toddler was killed in an apparent homicide in September. 

Three-year-old Arely Naomi Proctor died inside Iglesia Evangelica Apostoles y Profetas on Second Street in an alleged exorcism ritual that went horribly wrong. The case has now been thrust into the public spotlight after court records were released showing that the girl’s mother, 25-year-old Claudia Hernandez, was charged with felony assault on a child resulting in death. Now, Hernandez's father — the pastor of the congregation — and her brother have also been arrested, as NBC Bay Area reports.

Investigators say that Hernandez, along with her father and brother, believed that Arely was demon-possessed and brought her to Iglesia Evangelica Apostoles y Profetas around 6 a.m. on September 24th, after not letting her eat for a number of hours. To expel the demons, court documents obtained by the Mercury News show that the three “took turns trying to force Arely to vomit, alternating positions by holding her neck, her abdomen, and her legs.” Arely ended up dying about 12 hours later, and no one alerted authorities until over an hour after the death occurred. The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner said Arely died from asphyxia due to suffocation and officials labeled the death a homicide. Medical Examiners say the girl had not eaten for 21 hours and was severely dehydrated. Police also said that there appeared to have been no attempt to rescucitate her.

“The grandpa told me they were praying, and they think that by praying, the Holy Ghost will come and save her. The mom said she was trying to squeeze her body to bring her demons out. I can’t believe she said that. It’s very awful. Very, very awful,” said Santiago Garcia, who owns the home where the church operates, speaking to the Mercury News.

Hernandez was not charged until four months after Arely’s death, and she's been held in jail without bail in Milpitas since January 31.

According to NBC Bay Area, Hernandez posted a video on YouTube weeks after her daughter’s death saying, “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."

The investigation is ongoing and Hernandez will be in court to enter a plea on June 13th.

In the April case, police aggressively searched Iglesia Evangelica Apostoles y Profetas while trying to find three-month-old Brandon Cuellar, who was kidnapped from his grandmother’s apartment in San Jose on April 25th. The boy was found by police 18-hours later. 28-year-old Jose Portillo and 43-year-old Yesenia Ramirez have been charged with kidnapping, burglary, and conspiracy to commit a felony. 

Ramirez allegedly expressed disapproval of how baby Brandon was being cared for by his mother and grandmother, who are also members of the church.

Church members have said publicly that Ramirez regularly attended services at Iglesia Evangelica Apostoles y Profetas. Investigations into the motive for the kidnapping and how the church is possibly connected are still underway but SFGate reports that the pair had tried kidnapping Cuellar unsuccessfully three other times before they allegedly snatched him from his grandmother’s home. The pair faces extensive prison time if they are convicted.