A creepy-sounding Pentecostal church in San Jose that police apparently linked to the recent kidnapping of a three-month-old boy is also connected to a previously unreported death of a three-year-old in September — a death that occurred during an attempt at exorcism.
New revelations about the April 25 kidnapping of three-month-old Brandon Cuellar are eliciting ever more disturbing questions. And as the Mercury News is reporting via a bail hearing, the two suspects charged in the case, 43-year-old Yesenia Ramirez and 28-year-old Jose Portillo, had attempted to kidnap the child at least three times before succeeding. In one instance, Portillo had allegedly posed as a Child Protective Services worker who "needed to take the baby from the home because he wasn’t being parented safely."
In the hours after the boy's disappearance, San Jose police reportedly swarmed a small church in the back room of a house on the 1000 block of 2nd Street, called Iglesia Evangelica Apostoles y Profetas. The church was part of a Pentecostal sect in California called Iglesias Apostoles y Profetas Libres, but other church leaders within the sect say that the San Jose congregation had grown distant from other congregations in the last couple of years, as the Mercury News reports.
Ramirez, along with Brandon Cuellar's mother and grandmother, are both reportedly members of the church.
One of the ways the church may have strayed in terms of doctrine, is the practice of exorcism. The pastor of the church, Rene Huezo, is alleged to have led an exorcism of his three-year-old granddaughter, Arely Naomi Proctor, which took place on September 24, 2021. As the Mercury News reported via a recently surfaced police report, Huezo's daughter, 25-year-old Claudia Hernandez, began believing the night before that her young daughter was possessed by a demon or evil spirit, because she "wake up and scream or cry periodically."
Hernandez and her brother began withholding food from the child and praying over her, and early on the morning of September 24, they brought her to the Iglesia Evangelica Apostoles y Profetas, where they met Huezo. The three allegedly participated in this exorcism ritual, with the mother allegedly strangling the child and the grandfather allegedly trying to force her to vomit, throughout the day. Police were ultimately called to the scene an hour or two after the girl likely died, which had been around 6 p.m. that night. Police say that the girl had not consumed food for 21 hours at that point, and was dehydrated as well.
Months later, Hernandez was arrested and charged with the girl's murder, which the medical examiner determined was the result of asphyxia due to suffocation. She has been in custody without bail at Elmwood Correctional Women’s Facility in Milpitas since January 31, and she has yet to be arraigned.
Neither Huezo nor Hernandez's brother have been charged in the killing, despite their alleged participation.
As the Associated Press reports today, "Huezo said he feels a lot of pain at the death of his grandchild but does not believe the exorcism caused her death."
A pastor at a sister church in the same Pentecostal sect says that exorcism plays no part in their typical practices.
"Church rooted in God has nothing to do with exorcisms at all. You can’t mix that stuff with God,” said Pastor Rafael Escobar of Reseda, speaking to the Mercury News. "Those are Satanic things. God’s power is one thing, and another is exorcisms and darkness. It’s not common at all in our church, and we don’t practice it. It’s very strange he would do that. It really shocks me a lot."
The connection between this child murder case and the recent abduction is disturbing to say the least. It is not clear whether Hernandez was acquainted with Ramirez or Cuellar's family, though it seems likely she had to have been — the congregation could not be that big if it meets in a room of this Craftsman house below.
The landlord who owns the multifamily house says he has given the church until September to vacate the property, citing the repeated police presence. The church has apparently been in the space for 14 years without previous incident.