Mother Kills Her Children During ‘Exorcism’

The Washington Post has the tragic story of a mother and another woman in Germantown, Maryland who killed two of her toddler children and critically wounded two others, apparently in an attempt to free them from what they believed to be demonic possession.

A Germantown mother and another woman accused of killing two toddlers and trying to kill two other children believed that they were releasing demonic spirits that had possessed the siblings, Montgomery County police said Saturday.

The two dead children — a boy, Norell Harris, 1, and a girl, Zyana Harris, 2 — were found Friday morning on their mother’s bed in a Germantown townhouse. Both had been stabbed repeatedly, police said. A sister, Taniya Harris, 5, and a brother, Martello Harris, 8, were seriously injured but are expected to survive.

Police said the women thought that they were performing an exorcism, although it did not appear they had followed any ritual.

“This was all about what was in their minds,” said Capt. Marcus Jones, commander of the county’s major crimes unit. “They felt like there was something bad going on with the children, and they were trying to release it.”

The mother apparently has a history of mental illness. This belief that the world is beset by demons and that there is a real Satan that they are locked forever in mortal combat with can be very dangerous.

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  • busterggi

    The mother may have had a history of mental illness but religion fed that mental illness. More victims of religious poisoning.

  • John Pieret

    This belief that the world is beset by demons and that there is a real Satan that they are locked forever in mortal combat with can be very dangerous.

    We’re looking at YOU, Gordon Klingenschmitt!

  • On the one hand, the perpetrators of this crime really need to be held accountable for their actions, and not be allowed to hide behind that tired old “we’re just good Christians!” excuse. OTOH, they’re really not entirely to blame for this: we need to take a good look at their education, their upbringing, their church’s teachings, the availability (or not) of mental-health services in their area, and, yes, their economic circumstances, and the interrelation of all of these factors and maybe others. The parents who did this should not get a pass, but neither should anyone else who had a hand in it.

  • This is why I can’t watch exorcism movies. My wife loves them, but as I watch them, I just get angrier and angrier. People who believe that ghosts, or aliens are real don’t hurt other people, but people who believe in exorcisms, and most of these movies claim to be based on “real stories” actually kill innocent people.

  • She was probably high on the pot when she killed her family members! Nancy Grace was right.

  • It’s a terrible story. It happened less than a mile from where I live, which is Yuppieville USA. The church the women belonged to, Exousia Ministries, preaches physical, mental and spiritual healing. It’s a non-denominational evangelical church that meets in a local elementary school on Sundays. Not that we can necessarily blame the church for the situation, but for someone walking in who has a mental disorder, it can be as dangerous as letting them have access to guns.

  • eric

    Stabbed? STABBED? I’m sorry but this needs to be prosecuted as what it is – murder. Sincere belief or not, there is a point at which an adult knows what they are doing is breaking important laws and when they proceed to break them, they should be held accountable. If one of the perpetrators is mentally ill that should of course be taken into account – but that is for a jury to decide; it is not a good reason to not-prosecute.

  • iknklast

    I used to work with people who believed in literal demons (what was even worse, they had master’s degrees in biology, required to work in that office). How can an adult believe something like that? These people did not have any history of mental illness. They were some of the most normal people I knew. They would have been able to pass any mental health exam ever devised. They did not actively hallucinate, they were not delusional in any of the standard usages of the word, but they still believed that actual demons were possessing the world. A combination of sleep paralysis and Christianity had convinced them. It’s scary how people who are rational in every other way can lose their ability to think once their religion takes over.

  • karmacat

    I have been reading the articles about this. The church was driving the mother to her mental health appointments. Unfortunately, some people who have psychosis don’t believe they are sick.

  • Trebuchet

    It’s all because of Republican Filthe, according to Comradde Physioproffe.

  • phere

    Thank you, Eric. I saw this story a couple of days ago. As a mother of a 3.5 yr old I have to say this event…hrm…words so fail us at times, don’t they? We throw words around like “tragic” “heartbroken” “evil” “disgusted” “irate” so often that they are diluted when you really need them. Stabbed. Stabbed her babies. To death. Grabbed a knife. Held her babies down. Plunged the knife repeatedly into their tiny, growing bodies. The person who is supposed to protect them.You know, fuck that ….ALL of us are supposed to protect children. I guess just “broken” suffices for how this story affected me. Why am I seeing more and more atrocities specifically regarding children? I tell ya, I am not a paranoid person – but sometimes I really want to take my family and just go “off the grid”. Away from all this. Before I become numbed. Before I could just pass over a story like this while I sip my coffee and shop shoes on the other tab. These stories bothered me before I became a parent – I’m not taking that away from anyone. But after becoming a mother these headlines become PERSONAL. They wreck your heart. It affects you physically and emotionally in a way that was impossible when I was childless. You can’t wrap your head around it. There is no excuse, no empathy, no sliver of reprieve I can find for this woman. My mother was severely abused by her father – tortured and beaten on a daily basis. Yet she broke that cycle. She is far from perfect – she is a mess of psychological and physical maladies – yet she never visited upon her children the abuse she herself suffered. I have a hard time buying the “cycle” excuse. If you know how horrible it is, how do you continue that? On innocent, amazing, beautiful little beings that worship and adore you.

    While shopping yesterday, my husband held up a giant unicorn stuffed animal. I was playing around as I exclaimed “Oh!!!! I want that unicorn so bad! It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!!!” We put it back but my child was so distraught that I didn’t get it…even this morning he was telling his dad that “Mom really wants the unicorn. She’s a good girl. She even poops in the potty. Can you please give mom the unicorn? I will be very mad if you don’t get mom the unicorn!” They care for us. They love us. They need us. How does a person become so evil – and yes, I mean that – that they can STAB their children to death? Or keep them locked in a filth ridden dark-as-night closet while you starve them for years and years? Or videotape your boyfriend raping your 11 month old? Or taking a SLEDGEHAMMER to your 6 month old napping granddaughter and slit her throat with a butcher knife when the hammer doesn’t do her in?

    I don’t get it. The 18mo Chinese girl who was run over in an alley – not once but TWICE while people on cell phones stepped over her mangled but still living body as if she were nothing but garbage. Her little arms reaching up to anyone who came close – only to be utterly disregarded. Then Sandy Hook. Then the Indian school food poisoning (all but forgotten in the media now). Let’s not forget mega-pedophile Ian Watkins who used his fame to cultivate a garden of victims. His ultimate fantasy never quite fulfilled (fathering and then raping/murdering an INFANT), he still managed to leave a wake of broken and abused children.

    I want to stay informed, but it is nearly impossible to do so without being assaulted by horror stories.

    I don’t care what her “beliefs” were, I can only hope that the evidence shows she was indeed cognizant and understanding of her actions so that she receives the full punishment. While I want her to be fully responsible, it wouldn’t hurt the church was found to be an influence. Compelling people to believe in monsters in the close regardless of their mental state should have some sort of consequence.

    Anyway, I am sickened and distraught. All I can do is hold on to my own boy and shower him with all the love I can manage.

  • Remind me again why there’s an exemption for religious beliefs under the definition of “delusion” in the DSM?

  • Michael Heath

    Police said the women thought that they were performing an exorcism, although it did not appear they had followed any ritual.

    Yeah that’s the problem here, if only they’d used a ritual; that would’ve worked or made them less culpable for abusing and then killing their children.

    Anyone raised fundie or evangelical knows the stories; unlike Catholics, no training is required to exorcise even Satan himself. Faith in a risen Jesus is all one needs.

    The blood of these children is on any every single adult U.S. Christian whose mentally capable of caring for themselves and associates with a church that promotes the false assertion that Satan and demons are real. Every single one. When will conservative Christians stop practicing or enabling child abuse? They won’t, they’ll die smug in their false, hateful, harmful beliefs; regardless of the harm they directly or indirectly cause.

  • Nathair

    Remind me again why there’s an exemption for religious beliefs under the definition of “delusion” in the DSM?


  • grasshopper

    Talk about bad luck. Mum is mentally ill AND the kids were possessed by demons.

    And remember, bad things come in threes… not including the Holy Trinity, of course.

  • dan4

    Surprised “raven” hasn’t made a contribution here. You can’t even start a thread on this blog about a Christian blowing his/her nose wrong without the aforementioned individual adding five or six comments.

  • dingojack

    phere – In fact in most ‘western’ countries the rates of crimes of violence are declining*. It’s just your TV station needs to sell more toothpaste, cars, incontinence pads and etc. to pay the unfeasibly large amounts of cash their top TV executives demand. Therefore the news has to scream: ‘PANIC! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE, TRIPLE MURDER SHOCK HORROR!!!’ to facilitate the process called ‘fleecing the rubes’.

    Feel better now? :/

    eric – “Stabbed? STABBED? I’m sorry but this needs to be prosecuted as what it is – murder.”

    The woman has a well-established history of mental illness, in order for it to be ‘murder’ you would have to show that she was ‘in her right mind’ at the time of the stabbings. (In some places the accused would be declared ‘unfit to plead’ and would be confined to a secure mental health unit. I’m not sure how it works in America)



    * in real terms, faster if you consider it on a ‘per hundred thousand’ basis.

  • It certainly sounds like the mother is mentally ill, and since there is some sort of history (according to the published report) I’m sure that will be part of any defense strategy. The other adult? No idea. I’ve never been involved with a church that advocates or tolerates any sort of physical or even psychologically abusive behavior of its members or their families in HIS name. Exorcisms have always been, at least to me, completely about control.


    Thanks for an entirely gratuitous and meaningless paragraph, asshole.

    Raven hates religion. He often repeats himself in comments from one thread to another. He get’s a bit hyperbolic. He’s substantially correct in his assessment of religion being a hugely negative influence in many peoples’ lives.

    “”You can’t even start a thread on this blog about a Christian blowing his/her nose wrong without the aforementioned individual adding five or six comments.”

    This particular post, btw, is about something a bit more horrific than a christian blowing their nose the wrong way.

  • phere

    Dingo- that is very, very true. I know overall violent crime is down in comparison to well, most of history. But when the worst of humanity is featured over and over you can’t help but lose sight of that.

  • Karen Hardin

    I have mixed feelings when i read an article like this. I have a child who has had periods of severe mental illness (major depression and some bipolar episodes have been the main diagnoses). People, like the mother, need effective treatment, not just incarceration. I find other people at fault. Where was the father? Why did he think that someone who is mentally fragile can handle 4 children, two of which are toddlers? What is he doing leaving with the children without having someone who was actually capable of protecting the children with her? Have people learned nothing from the woman with postpartum depression in Houston who killed her children? Was this woman over burdened because the family are involved in the Quiverfull movement? What is the movement’s culpability? Movements that encourage enormous families like Quiverfull have some blame here. Their leaders preach and equate godly behavior with gigantic families. What kind of mental health treatment was she getting? Was it real psychiatric care with a combination of properly adjusted meds and talk therapy? Was her support network seeing to it that she actually took the meds? Were her meds were being readjusted? If yes, why was she left without proper supervision with all those children?

    I want the surviving children placed in a safe environment and properly treated for whatever PTSD or other symptoms that they will have from this awful murder. They are old enough to understand that their mother killed the babies. They will be suffering real mental as well as physical trauma.

    Above all, I want the law, society, and the government to see to it that the perpetrators can never be around children alone again. But I want the perpetrators properly treated as well as incarcerated.

    There are others who take responsibility for this. The father. The churches and TV preachers who gave her the idea children can be possessed by demons that need to be exorcized. I’m talking “in real life” here, not dark fantasy fiction. The people preach, extol, and publicize movements like Quiverfull. The inadequate support system for a mentally ill woman with 4 children two of which were toddlers. The law that says that people with mental illness are still capable of making their own decisions.

    I see all of them as being equally guilty of creating an atmosphere where crimes like this can end up happening. They must stop denying their part in these kinds of problems. And no, “there are thousands of large families who do just fine” is nothing to hide behind.

    Everyone needs to stop acting like ostriches about mental illness and do something about it. Mental illness is serious, just like diabetes, cancer, and congestive heart failure are serious. It must be openly discussed. It must be treated properly. People who are in the midst of serious mental illness and psychotic episodes may not be able to determine the proper course of action. I am thankful that my child, when she was really bad off, still had the ability to agree to hospitalization when she needed it.

    The stigma must end. Anyone can become mentally ill at any time. All that needs to happen is a mini-stroke in the wrong part of the brain or a serious head injury.

  • dingojack

    Karen Hardin – So what are you advocating here? Should people who are mentally ill be forcibly taken into treatment? Who exactly decides who is mentally ill and who is merely eccentric?

    You asked about the woman’s husband, are you contending he should have taken children away (just in case their mother did something that was unforeseeable and, statistically unlikely). Who would decide and how would this be arranged exactly? Or should the husband give up his job to become his wife’s 24 hour a day/7 days a week jailor?

    Then you wonder about the culpability of the church group. Did they say ‘OK now hold down the children and stab them multiple times’? How would you prove that they were culpable? What effect would this have on free speech if one could be prosecuted for utterances that could possibly construed as being ‘objectionable’ for whatever reason. Are you proposing shutting down the church? Again who decides and how? How will it affect freedom of religion issues?

    While I agree a conversation needs to take place and the stigma lifted, it’s complicated (But we’ve overcome complex things before).