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Exorcism sees 2 toddlers killed, 2 hospitalized, mom arrested for murder

Police in Maryland believe that a mother attempting an exorcism on her children somehow ended up killing two of them and sending two to the hospital. Horrific details of the double murder and double attempted murder were released by Montgomery County Police on Saturday in a statement.

Reuters reported (via Yahoo News) Jan. 18 that, according to police, Zakieya Latrice Avery, 28 and the mother of four children, was arrested Saturday after police responded to a call at her Germantown, Md., home. Two children, Norell Harris, 1, and Zyana Harris, 2, were found dead, apparent victims of multiple stab wounds. Two other children, ages 5 and 8, also suffered stab wounds and were hospitalized.

Police think the stabbings occurred during an attempted exorcism.

Zakieya Avery did not act alone, police say. Arrested also was 21-year-old Monifa Denise Sanford, who police believe lives at the address as well.

Avery and Sanford were both charged with two counts of first degree murder and two counts of attempted first degree murder, police said Saturday.

As CBS News reported, the investigation of the bloody murder scene was difficult for even the veteran law enforcement officials. "These are hard cases. That’s it. Thank you,” said an obviously shaken John McCarthy, Montgomery Co. State’s Attorney, at the conclusion of the press conference.

The four children were found early Friday morning when Montgomery County police responded to a neighbors' calls. One of those neighbors, Elisa Adoras, said, “I was walking first around 7:15 with my dog and I see the knife on the floor very close to the car."

A witness to the arrests who wished to remain anonymous said that police tackled one of the women as they tried to escape out the back door. The second person ran into a car trying to escape.

Sanford was reportedly injured during the exorcism and treated at a hospital.

Montgomery County Police are now investigating for motive and to find out exactly what occurred in the house that left two toddlers dead. Just what caused the two women -- especially Avery, the mother of the children -- to conduct what they thought was an exorcism. Neighbors were shocked, describing Zakieya Avery as a seemingly normal mother.

As for exorcisms, they are religious rites performed in an effort to drive perceived evil spirits from a possessed individual's physical body. A recent article in The Telegraph revealed that the demand for exorcists is on the rise and the Catholic Church is attempting to meet the demand, training more priests in the rites of exorcism. Once thought to be an embarrassment to the Church, the archaic beliefs of demonic possession and evil spirits have been embraced as a prevalent concern and in need of address. Thus the increase in exorcism training.

There also seems to be some worry about unauthorized outsiders attempting to perform exorcisms.

Whether or not Avery is part of the latter group is unknown at the moment.

But exorcisms are not unheard of in the U. S. Nor are deaths related to the ceremony. In fact, a Minnesota pastor was found guilty in 2004 of felony physical abuse of a child causing great bodily harm after his exorcism ministrations over an 8-year-old resulted in the suffocation death of the boy. The boy's mother and those helping perform the exorcism believed they could rid him of his autism. The pastor, Ray Hemphill, was subsequently sentenced to two-and-a-half years behind bars, and another seven-and-a-half years under state supervision.

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