Police say ‘demon rituals’ led to the death of a 2-year-old Balch Springs boy living in a controversial church last year. The ex-husband of one of its former members spoke to FOX 4 as he hopes more charges will come to the church leaders –- including his ex-wife.
Five children, ages 1 to 13, were placed in foster care after Child Protective Services removed them from the home where the toddler died of starvation after a religious ritual. The father of a sixth child living there temporarily says his son had a restricted diet and was forced to pray for hours.
The trial for the church leader was set to begin May 31 but Balch Springs police say it's now been postponed because prosecutors are still building their case.
In March 2015, Jorge Luna says his ex-wife, Nazareth Zurita, had joint custody of their son. The two lived at the Balch Springs home.
“I would definitely say a house of horrors,” said Luna. “I knew something was wrong.”
Zurita was the secretary and third-ranking officer of a church in the home where police documents say the leader, Araceli Meza, convinced members she was a prophet receiving orders from God.
Luna says when his ex-wife moved in to the home in March 2010, she started distancing herself from friends and family. He says their only interaction was exchanging custody of their then 7-year-old son.
“My child would get very emotional on Fridays when it was time to go back with mom,” said Luna. “It was dreadful seeing him get so emotional.”
Luna's friend says the boy eventually opened up as to why.
“They had prolonged prayer sessions,” said the friend who wanted to remain anonymous. “Put him on a restricted diet.”
Police say the church leader believed a 2-year-old born at the home was possessed and decided the toddler couldn’t eat food for up to 25 days. He could only drink water several times a day.
“It’s basic cult-like activity. It's the basic make up of what a cult is,” said the friend.
The arrest affidavit says after the boy eventually died, a ceremony was held in the living room to bring him back to life with prayer. When that didn’t work, the church leader told the boy's parents God said to take his body to Mexico.
“Starvation is a slow agonizing process,” said the friend. “And for these children to witness that, that can scar them.”
Luna believes his ex-wife knew what was going on and intentionally exposed their son to it. Zurita is not charged in the case but investigators say she still could be.
“These people need to be brought to justice,” said Luna.
Since the 2015 incident, the majority of the church members have fled to Mexico. The Texas Rangers are now in charge of the investigation. The FBI is also involved, but only in terms of bringing back the 2-year-old’s body which still has not been recovered.