Maryland mom kills 2 of her children during attempted exorcism

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Mother Kills her two children, age 1 and 2 during an attempted exorcism. They died from stab wounds.

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.

Written By: Faith Karimi and Joe Sutton, CNN
continue to source article at edition.cnn.com

45 COMMENTS

  1. ” “Investigators have learned that the two defendants believed that they were performing an exorcism.”

    And again, belief kills.

    One might think that the murders would have taken place anyway, sooner or later, but bat shit crazy religious beliefs sure have a way of facilitating these horrors.

  2. And doG didn’t lift a finger to stop it. Whence cometh evil xtians? Is your sky god malign, uncaring or impotent? Or is it you’re so special it’s only your prayers that he listens to, privately, between your ears?

  3. I just clicked off my Facebook page where a bunch of Christians were ganging up on me about my criticism of prayer. So naturally I posted this article. I wonder if they will see the connection. Probably not. I am certain they will haul out that old ‘no true Scotsman’ defense. (Black) people who perform exorcisms are not real Christians, just deluded fools who use Christianity as an excuse to do their silly rituals. REAL Christians simply pray.

    • In reply to #6 by justinesaracen:

      I just clicked off my Facebook page where a bunch of Christians were ganging up on me about my criticism of prayer. So naturally I posted this article. I wonder if they will see the connection. Probably not. I am certain they will haul out that old ‘no true Scotsman’ defense. (Black) people who perf…

      Well done.

  4. Strange that. An omnicient, omnipotent,omnipresent goD,makes a gift of FOUR children to this woman.What was he thinking?.Don’t the faithful find this a tad discouraging?

    Also,is not the world overpopulated enough,I don’t even want to know why this woman had so many children in the first place.The unthinking way in which people have children and then visit cruelties on them makes me sick.If I had been one of this woman’s children I would prefer to have been aborted.Really.Of couse, the pro-life people know that this happens to many children, don’t they?
    I know I’ve been jumping from one issue to another, but anything that contributes to one precious child suffering makes me very angry.

    • In reply to #7 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

      What a terrible waste. Many people would love to have had those children.
      The mother probably had an underlying psychological condition but religion gave her the reason to kill them.

      • In reply to #8 by Nitya:

        In reply to #7 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

        What a terrible waste. Many people would love to have had those children.
        The mother probably had an underlying psychological condition but religion gave her the reason to kill them.

        You’re probably right; and if so it serves to illustrate how lethal religion can be if you’re vulnerable; but I think most of us here know that; I liken blind faith to heavy drug addiction, but I speak as one unqualified and would welcome criticism of my supposition.

        • I don’t want to argue. I’m new and was wondering what happened to Nitya? Also is there a way to send private messages?

          In reply to #23 by Stafford Gordon:

          In reply to #8 by Nitya:

          In reply to #7 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

          What a terrible waste. Many people would love to have had those children.
          The mother probably had an underlying psychological condition but religion gave her the reason to kill them.

          You’re probably right; and if so it serv…

        • In reply to #23 by Stafford Gordon:

          I liken blind faith to heavy drug addiction…

          That’s the best analogy.

          Scapegoating the mentally ill for Avery’s conspicuously religious behaviour only serves to marginalize the innocent, perpetrating a false stereotype yet again. When Xians kill they frequently seek to invoke a defence of mental illness. The devout Catholic baby-killer Darcey Freeman tried that very ploy to explain throwing his own baby from Westgate bridge to spite his wife.

          I agree with Neodarwinian #1: “belief kills”

  5. Police spokesman stated there was no evidence of exorcism; “No bible, no priest, no instructions…”

    So, are you not all jumping to conclusion? Mental illness seems the more likely explanation.
    Personally these one-off examples don’t convince me of the evil of religion, more like cherry-picking.

    • In reply to #9 by Fritz:

      Police spokesman stated there was no evidence of exorcism; “No bible, no priest, no instructions…”

      So, are you not all jumping to conclusion?

      I guess the accused’s apparent confession to police saying she was “attempting” exorcism, and her apparent attempt to escape the scene (where her two babies were butchered), does not count as evidence — in your world?

      • In reply to #11 by RDfan:

        In reply to #9 by Fritz:

        I’m with Fritz on this one. What she said could be a lie to try and downgrade the charge from first degree murder and potentially the death penalty. We just don’t know at the moment – all we can do is speculate. If this is the case, it is interesting that she thinks exorcism could be some sort of defense.

      • In reply to #11 by RDfan:

        In reply to #9 by Fritz:

        Police spokesman stated there was no evidence of exorcism; “No bible, no priest, no instructions…”

        So, are you not all jumping to conclusion?

        I guess the accused’s apparent confession to police saying she was “attempting” exorcism, and her apparent attempt to escape the…

        In my skeptical world I try not to believe what obviously deranged people say… it may well be true BUT where’s the evidence, apart from her claim? Could there be more to discover?

        The police spokesman in the video seemed less than 100% convinced.

        • In reply to #25 by Fritz:

          In my skeptical world I try not to believe what obviously deranged people say… it may well be true BUT where’s the evidence, apart from her claim? Could there be more to discover?

          Why yes, of course there could be more to discover. The investigation is on-going, but there is apparently enough evidence to bring a charge against the mother. Exactly why she allegedly murdered her kids is yet to be determined.

          AFAIK, the law is not concerned with the question why at the trial stage. All that the prosecution needs to establish — beyond reasonable doubt — for a conviction of murder is both (a) she committed the alleged act (so-called guilty act) and (b) she had the intent (so-called guilty mind).

          The evidence so far for (a), that she killed the kids, looks strong — but further investigations will show if this is beyond reasonable doubt.

          The evidence so far for (b), her intent, is unclear. Again, further investigations will shed light on this.

          Intent simply deals with the question of if she knew her act (say, stabbing a child with a sharp object) would lead to its death. That’s all.

          A separate but related point is motive — what inspired the thoughts behind the act. In this case, exorcisms of evil spirits has been suggested in the OP. Other posters suggest she had a psychological illness.

          Trying to establish motive is always a problem, as some have said. But it’s worth remembering that as long as (a) and (b) have been established, a conviction can be found. The prosecution need not establish motive.

          Motive is usually relevant after conviction — in the sentencing phase — as a mitigating factor, where a judge/jury can reduce the sentence based on, for example, the mental state of the convict.

          Motive also plays a role in the investigation phase — where the cops try to establish a motive, a means and an opportunity to commit the crime. But as for guilty/not guilty determinations, motive does not play a primary role.

          But I could be wrong.

  6. How can we be certain that this is a result of “Christianity?” The mother was African-American and we have no idea if she was born a US citizen…from Haiti…or Africa…. This is more a result of mental illness and extreme abuse. Blaming this on Christianity is like blaming the former Russian (from my childhood) government’s actions on atheism. The woman is a deranged nut.

    • In reply to #14 by QuestioningKat:

      How can we be certain that this is a result of “Christianity?” The mother was African-American and we have no idea if she was born a US citizen…from Haiti…or Africa…. This is more a result of mental illness and extreme abuse. Blaming this on Christianity is like blaming the former Russian (fro…

      I agree and I would go further. Trying to blame just about any crime solely on religion is wrong headed. Human behavior is always complex and the result of multiple genetic and environmental factors. Seldom if ever can we look at an event and say “that was completely caused by religion” (or by politics or genetics or any one individual cause).

      Stupid, evil people do stupid evil things and then make up the rationalizations. It’s wrong to blame the things that they use to rationalize their stupidity and immorality.

      • In reply to #15 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #14 by QuestioningKat:

        Stupid, evil people do stupid evil things and then make up the rationalizations. It’s wrong to blame the things that they use to rationalize their stupidity and immorality.

        “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

        • Steven Weinberg, quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999
    • Blaming this on Christianity may be inaccurate, but it is in the realm of religion and christianity (in all its variations) is fairly entrenched in the states. That article states that both women thought they were performing an exorcism… that is a religious event. Religion provides the framework and rituals for exorcism. Scientific evidence does not support demonic possession as being real. Bringing up atheism as a counter doesn’t work because atheism has no belief system. It’s simply a lack of accepting people’s claims to the existence of a god(s) due to lack of evidence (reason and logic).

      Where this woman originated doesn’t matter either, since christianity does exist outside the U.S. While she may have been mentally ill, the fact that she would have known about exorcisms points to an acceptance of religious dogma. Even if she had gathered all of her knowledge of exorcisms from the media, she still would have to believe that on some level, religion was the correct belief system. That’s a fairly reasonable assumption to make.

      Since you brought up the former Soviet Union, how does a lack of accepting a god claim, affect its actions… because there are no rules/regulations for atheism (aside from the lack of accepting the god claim).

      In reply to #14 by QuestioningKat:

      How can we be certain that this is a result of “Christianity?” The mother was African-American and we have no idea if she was born a US citizen…from Haiti…or Africa…. This is more a result of mental illness and extreme abuse. Blaming this on Christianity is like blaming the former Russian (fro…

      • In reply to #18 by Fujikoma:

        Blaming this on Christianity may be inaccurate, but it is in the realm of religion and christianity (in all its variations) is fairly entrenched in the states. That article states that both women thought they were performing an exorcism… that is a religious event. Religion provides the framework…

        I wouldn’t blame it on xtianity- I would blame faith- a virtue which is lionized in every culture (especially Mono-theistic ones) in the world.

    • In reply to #14 by QuestioningKat:

      How can we be certain that this is a result of “Christianity?” The mother was African-American and we have no idea if she was born a US citizen…from Haiti…or Africa…. This is more a result of mental illness and extreme abuse. Blaming this on Christianity is like blaming the former Russian (fro…

      How can you be certain that the mother was African-American? Not all black people are of African origin (unless you go back far enough that we all are.) As you state, there is no indication that she was even American – but you suggest she could be from Africa or Haiti… why not Europe, Asia, or anywhere else?

      By the way, for the Americans on here, Africa is a continent made up of lots of different countries. It isn’t an island somewhere where they make black people.

      “African American” is a stupid, gutless substitute for black, to make people who say, “I’m not a racist but…” feel better about themselves.

    • In reply to #14 by QuestioningKat:

      How can we be certain that this is a result of “Christianity?” The mother was African-American and we have no idea if she was born a US citizen…from Haiti…or Africa…. This is more a result of mental illness and extreme abuse. Blaming this on Christianity is like blaming the former Russian (fro…

      Why does it matter if she was born a US citizen or not? The family attended church as the pastor who was interviewed confirmed. Hence, they were Christians. She was a Christian who said she performed an act of exorcism. Yes, I tend to agree with you that this woman was most likely suffering from severe mental illness. Still, would she have talked about exorcism if she did not in some way associate her actions with her religious beliefs? I don’t think so… However deluded her religious beliefs were (unless she’s of course just making this story up to avoid the death penalty) these beliefs resulted in two dead babies. To me, it does not really matter whether she was a Christian or not. What matters is that she attributes a religious explanation to her despicable acts. Does not that bother you?

  7. I’ve read everyone’s thoughts here. I’d just like to add something. The perception of reality that this clearly mentally handicapped person established was one of demons and exorcisms. Would she have murdered without this delusion being added to her mental illness? We won’t ever know. BUT, the reality of the situation is that children are dead at the hands of a parent because of the “guidance” of a mentally unstable person at the hands of “religion”.

    And, Fritz, it is cherry picking, but it is not cherry picking an argument about where someone sat in a restaurant or whether men and women should sit separately…. CHILDREN were butchered YET AGAIN. When the pile of dead bodies reaches a certain height (in my world view that pile is a pile of ONE), it becomes apparent that raising the general public’s awareness becomes more important than what type of argumentative strategy one employs.

    • In reply to #17 by crookedshoes:

      I’ve read everyone’s thoughts here. I’d just like to add something. The perception of reality that this clearly mentally handicapped person established was one of demons and exorcisms. Would she have murdered without this delusion being added to her mental illness? We won’t ever know. BUT, the…

      Yes, cherry picking is not the best phrase to use- I was trying to illustrate the difference between these ‘one-off’ instances which happen everywhere and all too frequently and those where the motive is clear and the victims are many.

  8. While religion gave shape to her delusions its probable that without religion they would have taken the shape of aliens or parasites or something similar and she”d have killed her kids anyways. In my opinion these children are just more victims of the horrible mental healthcare system we have in the US.

  9. A side point about mental illness and religiosity. As has been said almost ad nauseam, if you met just one person who heard voices in his head, or actually believes that a snake can talk, or thinks that an invisible being is protecting him, or communes with the dead or with spirits, you would think him insane or mentally unstable. If the same person says, however, that these are all aspects of his religious belief, we accept it as normal behavior. Why the double standard?

    My guess is most religious people (who, by the way, are usually law-abiding) don’t really believe what they claim to believe. Of course there are exceptions (they are the ones who usually go out and actually blow themselves up for God or stab a child to death as a form of exorcism). But the vast majority, it seems, do what Dan Dennette said: they like to believe in belief, in the idea of a Greater Power, rather than in the many (often absurd) tenets of the faith.

    As for faith-based crimes: of course not all crimes are based on religion; no sane person argues that. But there clearly are crimes that are based on faith. And even if faith is not the overriding motivation (politics or sectarian or nationalistic or some other reason may also play a part), we have to accept that there are crimes where faith plays an important, if not critical, role.

    Take the London case where a British soldier is hacked to death on the streets. The assailants ranted about the geo-politics of the War in Iraq; but they also clearly expressed their religious motivations for the revenge attack. I take their (deluded) words for it. And if the mother in the OP apparently says she killed the kids because she thought they were under the influence of demons, who am I to second guess her (again, deluded) motivations?

    Perhaps we will one day classify some expressions of religious belief as mental illnesses, and “God told me to” will be used as a defense in law. Until then, as I’ve said elsewhere on the RDFRS, if the religious want to claim special privileges or benefits for faith-based initiatives (charity donations, a place in public office etc), maybe they should also face the costs or punishments — and reality — of faith-based crimes.

    • Over on PZ’s site, there is an awesome post where a transgender person stands up for herself (as well as all other transgender folks).

      There is a looming piece of legislation, proffered by this bible thumping bigot. The woman quotes Leviticus and demonstrates that the situation calls for a stoning. She has a rock with her and puts it on the podium and says (I’ll paraphrase) “I brought this rock for you to cast at me, now we will see if your belief in the bible is real or just a smokescreen to hide your hate.” And she places the rock on the podium.

      The bigot not only shirks the stone, but withdrawals the legislation. This is offered to reinforce your assertion that most religious people do not believe what they purport to believe. I love the strategy that the woman employed and am going to use it morre often. Call them on their beliefs. Put them on the spot.

      In reply to #31 by RDfan:

      A side point about mental illness and religiosity. As has been said almost ad nauseam, if you met just one person who heard voices in his head, or actually believes that a snake can talk, or thinks that an invisible being is protecting him, or communes with the dead or with spirits, you would think…

      • In reply to #33 by crookedshoes:

        I love the strategy that the woman employed and am going to use it morre often. Call them on their beliefs. Put them on the spot.

        I agree and think this should work in most cases — unless, that is, you really meet one of those nutters who really believes what their faith tells them.

        In related news: a judge in the UK recently allowed a woman on trial to wear her full veil. The judge also said she had to show her face if she gave evidence, and warned the jury not to be prejudiced against her for expressing her religious belief. The judge went further and said it was the right of a religious person to express any religious belief.

        Again, I don’t really think the judge meant what he said — that she (or other religious people) could express any religious belief. Clearly there are limits.

        So, let’s say — for argument’s sake — her religious belief was to keep her full veil on at all times while in public. This would ran counter to the judge’s own ruling that she show her entire face when sitting in the dock.

        Or what if her religious belief demand that she stone her neighbor for working on the Sabbath?

        Again, this would be illegal under the law of the land which states that that kind of killing is not permitted.

        So, it’s clear that sometimes even secular people say things about religion that they do not mean; that religion gets a free pass that is not actually free; that we often have a double standard when it comes to (otherwise absurd) religious beliefs; that the religious don’t always believe everything written in their holy books.

        Which brings me back to the OP: the mother may well claim that her religion demanded she exorcise demons from her children in the way she allegedly did, and society may have laws protecting the free expression of religious belief, but the jury (if it comes to trial), rightly, should find her guilty — regardless of what her apparent faith dictates.

        • In reply to #37 by RDfan:

          The judge went further and said it was the right of a religious person to express any religious belief.

          The irony is, the full face veil is not a religious requirement, it is a cultural one.

          You make a good point. That judge should be kick off the bench. Given his statement, I wonder how he would deal with a case of female genital mutilation?

          There is something wrong with a country that requires me to remove my shoes and belt to go through airport security while others can waltz straight through because their dress is deemed “religious garb” and a no-go area.

          • In reply to #38 by Ignorant Amos:

            In reply to #37 by RDfan:

            There is something wrong with a country that requires me to remove my shoes and belt to go through airport security while others can waltz straight through because their dress is deemed “religious garb” and a no-go area.

            Yeah, there’s far too much profiling of white people in the UK; that’s the problem.

          • In reply to #39 by Katy Cordeth:

            In reply to #38 by Ignorant Amos:

            In reply to #37 by RDfan:

            There is something wrong with a country that requires me to remove my shoes and belt to go through airport security while others can waltz straight through because their dress is deemed “religious garb” and a no-go area.

            Yeah, there’s far too much profiling of white people in the UK; that’s the problem.

            Ah Katy, ya fell for it hook, line and sinker.

            Where in that comment did I refer to race or colour?

            Hoist by your own petard methinks.

            When the threat to national security came from republican terrorism in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s….who do ya think was getting profiled?

            White Irishmen and women, go figure.

  10. I feel sorry for Americans. Virtually every major authority figure they will ever encounter or hear on TV or read about in the papers throughout their lives will constantly and passionately declare a belief in the supernatural. Yet if they act upon such a belief, the very system that so heavily endorsed that belief will punish them for it. It must be very confusing.

  11. In reply to #35 by Stew282:

    “African American” is a stupid, gutless substitute for black, to make people who say, “I’m not a racist but…” feel better about themselves.

    Wow….easy tiger….”African American” is an epithet used by many black Americans to describe themselves.

    Is “European American” a stupid gutless substitute for white and for the same reasons you outline?

    A few months back I fell folly by using what I now know to be the politically incorrect “coloured” epithet. The fella I was talking to took short shrift in putting me into my box and educating me that the “coloured” epithet is offensive and that “black” was more appropriate.

    My ignorant understanding being that not everyone is black, but we are all coloured.

    I’m also reasonably content that my species is originally from Africa.

    I don’t understand the “gutless” inference in your hyperbole either.

    By the way, for the Americans on here, Africa is a continent made up of lots of different countries. It isn’t an island somewhere where they make black people.

    By the way, for the Europeans on here, Europe is a continent made up of lots of different countries. It isn’t an island somewhere where they make white people….as in white European

    From a reductionist point of view, as you said, everyone in the US is an “African American”, but that’s the pedant in me.

    I think you have missed the point QK was trying to make in her comment.

    • In reply to #36 by Ignorant Amos:

      In reply to #35 by Stew282:

      “African American” is a stupid, gutless substitute for black, to make people who say, “I’m not a racist but…” feel better about themselves.
      etc…

      On a scale of zero to never, how often do you hear the phrase “European American”?

      In all my years of watching American films and hearing the phrase “African American” repeatedly; I have never heard or seen “European American”. Nor have I heard “Asian American” or “Australasian American”. I have heard “Italian American” and “Irish American” used a lot but never “Kenyan American” or “Nigerian American”.

      The whole idea of my making the point about Africa being a continent was that too many Americans don’t realise this. Pointing out to Europeans that Europe is a continent merely reinforces the prejudice that Americans are geographically ignorant.

  12. I knew the christian apologetics would soon try and distance themselves from this with all sorts of rationale. It is clear she was christian and attempting to do an excorcism……of course there is more to discover but these two themes will remain…..and we all know what that imply’s.

  13. There are two defendants here, And all four children were exorcised by the pair leaving two survivors. I think the ‘Fact’ of exorcism can be determined fairly quickly.

    First if the mother simply wanted to do the kids in then why involve a second person, children will let a trusted adult kill them. It doesn’t require much effort.

    If both defendants are saying exorcism (weird exorcism, stab until the demon comes out is never going to leave you with a living saved child) then no matter how weird the lack of other circumstantial evidence (holy water, catholic priest, sprinkled blood in patterns, ground salt, silver coins blah blah blah) the exorcism motive has to be possible. If the other defendant turns out to be a local spiritualist/wise woman/priestess/vicar/bible study leader etc then I would think exorcism is the reason.

    If the two surviving children say there was chanting, praying and mentioning of God then that probably gives exorcism a big boost as well.

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