GERMANTOWN, Md. – Police charged two women Saturday in the deaths of two children in Maryland, saying the women believed they were performing an exorcism.
Montgomery County Police charged 21-year-old Monifa Denise Sanford and 28-year-old Zakieya Latrice Avery 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. They are expected to have a bond review Tuesday.
On Saturday, Avery was charged with killing two of her children and trying to kill two more after police found a bloody scene at the home in Germantown Friday.
The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Saturday that 1-year-old Norell Harris and 2-year-old Zyana Harris suffered multiple stab wounds and both deaths have been classified as a homicide. The other two children remain hospitalized.
An investigation into this motive and other aspects of the crime are continuing, but officials say the home had a history of violence. Avery’s husband faced charges last year for assault and false imprisonment, police say.
Sanford and Avery each face two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Police were called to the home on Cherry Bend Drive, off Great Seneca Highway, around 9:30 a.m. Friday after a neighbor reported that a car was left open in the home’s driveway and that there was blood around and inside the car.
Using keys left inside the open car, police entered the home and discovered what Chief Tom Manger described as a bloody scene inside an upstairs bedroom.
Police had visited the same home Thursday night for a report that a child had been left alone in a car. When police arrived, the two women would not let them in the house. With no reason to believe the child was in danger, officers asked Child Protective Services to follow up the next morning, but case workers never had a chance to visit the home.
Spokesman Capt. Jim Daly says Avery was caught after she ran out the back door of the home.
Montgomery County School spokesman Dana Tofig says that when classes resume on Wednesday, staffers will be ready to help children who attend Germantown Elementary School.
“We will also try to make sure that we maintain some semblance of normalcy in the school so we can have our routine,” but Tofig adds, “for students who are impacted, there will be support there.”
Germantown Elementary has a counselor on staff normally, but Tofig says additional counselors will be on hand “to talk to students who may be impacted by events that have occurred in the area.” Referring to the attacks, Tofig said “It’s certainly a very tragic situation and we’ll do whatever we can to support those who are impacted by it.”
Daly says the crime scene extended outside the home. Anyone with information is asked to contact detectives at the Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5070.
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