Two kids killed during attempted Md. exorcism

Police on Saturday made a second arrest in the stabbing deaths Friday of two Maryland children. Officials also disclosed a motive: the alleged killers "believed they were performing an exorcism," according to investigators.

Monifa Denise Sanford, 21, was taken into custody Saturday afternoon after being released from the hospital. Sanford was apparently injured during the same incident that took the lives of Norell Harris, 1, and Zyana Harris, 2. The children’s mother, 28-year-old Zakieya Latrice Avery, was arrested Friday.

Officers with the Montgomery County Police Department around 9:30 a.m. found the siblings’ bodies inside a townhouse on the 19000 block of Cherry Bend Drive. One of Avery’s neighbors called 911 after noticing a vehicle with its door left open and a knife on the ground. The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Saturday both children were stabbed to death.

Two other children – Taniya Harris, 5, and Martello Harris, 8 – were found injured inside the home, as was Sanford. Both children remained hospitalized Saturday. Police said Avery, who was not injured, tried to run out a rear door but was quickly apprehended.

Avery and Sanford are charged with two counts each of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. Both women are being held without bond. Police said Sanford is not believed to be a relative but lived at the same home.

Officers were dispatched to the same home the night before the murders when a neighbor reported a child left unattended in a car. Two women allegedly exited the house and took the child inside before police arrived. Officers tried to make contact but received no answer at the door, according to investigators.

Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger in a statement called the case “heartbreaking.” Many of the details surrounding the motive remained undisclosed Saturday. Officials said only that the two women “believed that they were performing an exorcism” and that the investigation was ongoing. 

Contact Alex Wigglesworth at 215-854-2305 or Follow @phila_lex on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.