Most stories we cover here about criminal activity linked to the paranormal have a somewhat humorous twist, but this one is not humorous at all. It’s just sad and tragic. I’ve been a Child Protective Specialist with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services for a few years now, and I’ve already heard numerous stories about people doing things to their children (i.e., abuse) because they believed that their children were possessed, or there were demons in the home, or ghosts, or aliens, or whatever. Sometimes they blame scratches and bruises found on their children on demons and ghosts. And sometimes it’s difficult to tell if they truly believe that or are just trying to use an insanity defense of sorts to throw us off the trail. The sad fact is that there are thousands of people in this city alone who have undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, and while that is sad enough, it is even worse when children fall victim to having parents who are not receiving the help they need. In this case, the results were truly tragic, and probably preventable.
Zakieya L. Avery, 28, was charged Saturday with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder, Montgomery County Police said in a statement.
A second woman, who was briefly hospitalized after the incident, was also charged in the two deaths. Police believe she is not related to the family, but lived at the same residence in Germantown.
Norell Harris, 1, and his sister, Zyana Harris, 2, suffered fatal stab wounds while their siblings, ages 5 and 8, were hospitalized with injuries, authorities said.
“Cases like this are heartbreaking,” county Police Chief Tom Manger said. “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims.”
Police said they found the four children Friday morning after a neighbor called 911 to report suspicious activity at the home. The neighbor reported seeing a car with a door open and a knife next to it.
Exorcism is a ritual aimed at defeating purported evil spirits or demons. Authorities did not provide additional details on why they suspected exorcism.
“Investigators have learned that the two defendants believed that they were performing an exorcism. The investigation into this motive and other aspects of the crime continue at this point,” police said.
Police were called to the home Thursday over reports of an unattended child in a car. By the time they got there, the child was not in the car and no one came to the door, authorities said.
“Prior to officers arriving, two women exited the townhouse, retrieved the child and re-entered the home,” Montgomery County Police said. “Officers attempted to speak with the residents, but received no response at the door. “
After the neighbor’s call, authorities notified county child protective services and asked them to follow up. It’s unclear whether they did.
Both women are being held without bond. Information on their attorneys was not immediately available.
This woman was obviously very mentally ill, and if child protective services had investigated when they first received the tip, this very well may have been avoided. Unfortunately, in most states, child protective workers have a lot of leeway regarding when they start their investigations, so it can be days before an initial contact with the family is even attempted. In New York City, we ned to see the family within 24 hours of a report, and in almost every case, with very few exceptions, we are making contact with the family just a few hours after we recieve the report. I really believe more states need to make initial contacts with families more of a priority so things like this don’t happen.