San Jose police on Friday identified the girl's uncle Rene Aaron Hernandez-Santos, 19, and her grandfather, Rene Trigueros Hernandez, 59, as the newest suspects to be arrested on suspicion of felony child abuse. They were arrested on Wednesday.
The girl's mother, Claudia Hernandez-Santos, 25, had already been charged with felony child abuse following her daughter's death in the 1000 block of South 2nd Street, which is a makeshift Pentecostal church called Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas. The elder Hernandez is also pastor of the church.
The girl – Arely Naomi Proctor – died on Sept. 24, 2021, as the family was trying to rid her of evil spirits, according to court documents filed against the mother.
As for why it took so long to charge the uncle and the grandfather?
San Jose police spokesman Steven Aponte said the coroner's report, determining the girl died by asphyxiation, was released only recently and "implicated the two individuals that were arrested just two days ago."
A spotlight has recently been focused on this basement church, as a parishioner there has been charged in a separate kidnapping case of a baby boy.
In the case of the 3-year-old girl, officers were called out to the church and found her unresponsive on the floor. First responders tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Efforts to determine if any of the family members had attorneys were not immediately available on Friday. The mother had previously denied a request for an interview.
Charging documents filed against the mother indicate she told police she believed her daughter was possessed because she would "wake up and scream or cry periodically."
She and her brother brought her daughter to the church where they were joined by the grandfather to perform an exorcism.
Hernandez-Santos is accused of holding the girl’s neck, squeezing it and depriving her of food while her father and brother held her daughter down.
She was trying to get her daughter to "throw up, which she believed would help her get the spirit out," charging documents state.
This went on for about 12 hours, leaving the girl with injuries around her eyes, face, neck, and chest.
San Jose police added that after the girl died, no one performed CPR or called 911.
The church operates out of the back room of a house and often posts its sermons on YouTube.
In a 43-minute video posted to YouTube in January, Hernandez-Santos talks about her desire to be a mother and shared stories of her life and daughter. In the video, she is seen laughing and asking for people to send her cash and follow her on social media.
She also addressed her daughter's death.
"Like, I could sit here and be negative… be sad about the whole situation that she passed away, but it’s like, there’s no point, you know, because it is what it is," she said on the video. "It is what it is. You know, she’s not here with me, it is what it is, you know? And it’s like, what’s the point, you know? I’m just gonna be… putting myself down when there’s no point for me to do that, you know? Like, I cannot change the past."