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Exorcism deaths: Police say mom stabbed 4 kids in exorcism ritual

A mother is being accused in the exorcism deaths of two of her children.
Montgomery County Police

The alleged exorcism deaths of two toddlers is prompting an outpouring of grief and questions, while two other kids struggle to survive the knife attack at the hands of their own mother, the Baltimore Sun reported on Jan. 19.

Killed in the exorcism deaths in Germantown, Maryland, were Norell Harris, 1, and his sister, Zyana Harris, 2, who both suffered fatal stab wounds, CNN reported. Their siblings, ages 5 and 8, were hospitalized with injuries related to the exorcism ritual, authorities said.

Charged in the exorcism deaths of her own children is Zakieya L. Avery, 28. She was charged Saturday with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder, Montgomery County Police said. Also charged in the exorcism deaths is a second woman, Monifa Denise Sanford, 21, who is reportedly not related to the family but lived with them. Both women are being held without bail.

The exorcism deaths allegedly occurred after the mother and Sanford attempted to carry out a ritualistic exorcism ceremony to remove “evil spirits and demons,” the Inquisitr reported. Few other details about what actually happened during the attempted exorcism are available yet.

The exorcism case first began to unfold last Thursday night, when a neighbor in the Germantown townhouse community called authorities to report an unattended child in a car. By the time police arrived, the two women charged in the exorcism deaths had already removed the child from the car, police said. Police knocked on their door but got no response. Officers said they did not have sufficient cause to enter the house without permission, the Sun said.

But police were called again on Friday morning when a neighbor reported seeing a knife and an open car door and suspicious activity. This time when police arrived, they apparently entered the home, where they found the two women accused in the exorcism deaths, along with the two toddlers, who were already dead, and the older siblings, who were seriously injured.

It’s not clear yet why police believe the deaths were related to an attempted exorcism.

An exorcism is the practice of removing demons or evil spirits from a person who is said to be possessed. The actual practices used in an exorcism ritual vary widely, with some simply using words in an attempt to cast out evil spirits. Perhaps one of the most famous exorcisms, of course, is the fictional account of the exorcism of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil in “The Exorcist.

In the case of the exorcism deaths of the two Germantown, Maryland, toddlers, some reports indicate that Avery, the mother, has experienced mental health problems in the past. Her Facebook page, which was shut down after the exorcism deaths, apparently contained pictures of the children and posts about God and the devil. Sylvia Wade, Avery's step-grandmother, said that the mother “was not herself” lately.

Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger called the exorcism deaths heartbreaking. “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims along with the 911 operators, police officers, evidence technicians, and fire and EMS personnel that responded,” he said in a statement.

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