Updated: Jan. 19, 2014 at 6:31 p.m.
Original: Jan. 17, 2014 at 12:00 p.m.

GERMANTOWN, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — A Maryland woman charged with killing two of her children has told investigators that she thought an exorcism was necessary to remove the presence of the devil and evil spirits, a police captain said Sunday.

Montgomery County Police charged 28-year-old Zakieya Latrice Avery and 21-year-old Monifa Denise Sanford with murder in the deaths of two of Avery’s children, a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old. The women are also facing attempted murder charges for injuring the children’s siblings, ages 5 and 8.

Police say that the two younger children who died suffered multiple stab wounds.

“She thought the devil was in the kids, and that’s sort of the thing she centered it around as to why she had to conduct an exorcism,” said Capt. Marcus Jones, director of the police department’s major crimes division. “She just thought that there were evil spirits within the kids.”

Sanford made similar statements during questioning, police said.

Police discovered a “very bloody scene” upon entering the home where the women lived on Cherry Bend Drive in Germantown on Friday morning. A neighbor called 911 after noticing a vehicle with the door open and a knife laying outside of the vehicle.

Avery was arrested when authorities say she tried to flee from the townhouse. Police found the two children dead inside the home, and their siblings and Sanford were taken to the hospital with injuries. Avery was the only person inside the home who was unharmed.

Police say Sanford was arrested Saturday after being released from the hospital.

Also on Saturday, police identified the children who died as Norell Harris, a 1-year-old boy, and Zyana Harris, a 2-year-old girl.

The older children who were injured were identified as 5-year-old Taniya Harris, a girl, and 8-year-old Martello Harris, a boy. They remained hospitalized.

“Cases like this are heartbreaking” said Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger. “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims along with the 911 operators, police officers, evidence technicians, and fire and EMS personnel that responded.”

Jones said the father of the children does not live in the area and is separated from Avery, but was returning to be with the surviving children, who remained hospitalized Sunday.

Police say Sanford and Avery each face two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. Both were being held without bond and are not expected to appear in court until Tuesday afternoon. Court records do not list lawyers for the women.

Jones said the women are believed to have met each other at a church, which he identified as Exousia Ministries in Germantown.

The pastor of that congregation, Darryl Jones, declined to discuss the case after services at an elementary school Sunday or even confirm that the women worshipped there.

“This is a tragic situation. We’re keeping the family in (our) prayers and we are respecting the privacy of the family,” he said.

Avery’s stepgrandmother, Sylvia Wade, told The Washington Post that Avery was “humble and meek” and said she loved her children.

“I don’t know what triggered it. She wasn’t herself. When a person is not of themselves, they are not responsible for what they are doing. They are in another zone.”

Officers had been called to the home Thursday evening when a neighbor reported a young child alone in a small blue car. Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Jim Daly said Friday, by the time police arrived, however, the child was no longer there. He said police knocked on the door of the home, but no one answered.

Daly said neighbors described a “commotion” coming from the home on two occasions in the overnight hours but no one called police.

The community of townhomes is located near Great Seneca Highway off Dawson Farm Road.

A neighbor, Elisa Aloras, said she was walking her dog around 7:15 a.m. Friday when she saw a small kitchen knife on the ground close to a dark blue or green car. Later, she was driving by and saw the same car with its rear passenger door open. She said she saw a blue coat on the ground.

“I’m so sad,” she said.


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