DALLAS, Texas (AP) – A woman who operated a church at her suburban Dallas home has been arrested for allegedly helping starve a 2-year-old boy to rid him of a “demon,” then holding a resurrection ceremony shortly after he died to try to revive him, investigators said Tuesday.
Police believe the boy was dead during the ceremony but that his parents took his body to their native Mexico for burial without reporting the death, said Balch Springs police Lt. Mark Maret. He said an anonymous tip about the ceremony at Araceli Meza’s home, where several other church members also lived, led to the investigation. He noted that more arrests are likely.
Meza was charged Monday with injury to a child causing serious bodily injury by omission. The 49-year-old was being held on $100,000 bond at the local jail, where records didn’t list an attorney. No one answered the door Tuesday at her home in Balch Springs, about 15 miles east of Dallas, and phone calls to the home went unanswered.
Witnesses told police that Meza and the boy’s parents believed he had a “demon” inside him, and that fasting was the way to save him.
“They didn’t give the child any food for about 25 days,” Maret said. “They just gave him some water, which ultimately caused the child to die.”
Church member Nazareth Zurita said she saw the child “looking frail and weak” the day before the resurrection ceremony, according to a police affidavit. She said the toddler fell and hit his head several times, but she hesitated to help him “due to his demon possession.”
Zurita said the next time she saw the child was the next day being held by church leader Daniel Meza, who was trying to revive the boy through a miracle during the ritual. Zurita said “it took her a while to figure out” the child was dead, according to the affidavit.
Investigators believe the boy died on March 21 or early the next day, and that the ceremony was held March 22 at Meza’s home.
“Apparently… they had a ceremony called ‘the rising,’ trying to resurrect the child back to life,” Maret said.
Police went to the home to check on the boy, whose name was not released, and discovered his parents had returned to Mexico.
Another church member, Delia Guadalupe Oyervides Herrera, told police she tried several times to feed the child during the 25-day fast, “but was scolded by the pastors of the church,” according to the affidavit. She asked the child’s mother why she would allow her child to be starved and was “advised that it was God’s will.”
Meza wasn’t affiliated with any traditional religion but held regular services at her home with her husband, Maret said.
Zurita said Meza “was considered a prophet” who “would advise to the other members of the church what God has spoken to her.” Zurita identified herself as the secretary and third-ranking officer of the Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey, and said Meza’s husband was the church’s leader and Meza was its second-ranking officer.
Julia Contreras lives three doors down from the residential church. She said the street was full of cars every Sunday.
“It would be packed with cars every Wednesday, sometimes Saturday and mainly on Sunday,” she said. Cars would be parked in the front yard of the vacant house next to the Mezas’ house and on a grassy slope on an adjoining street, she said.