The pastor of the Germantown church that had once been the home church of a local woman who allegedly killed two of her four children in an exorcism released a statement Wednesday saying he was “shocked and saddened” by her actions.
Darryl W. Joyce is the pastor of Exousia Ministries, a church of about 30 to 40 people who meet weekly in Great Seneca Creek Elementary School on Dairymaid Drive in Germantown.
“Our church does not in any way promote or condone these horrible acts nor the act of exorcism in any way, shape, or form,” he wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are continually with the deceased and injured children and their families.”
On Jan. 17, Montgomery County Police arrived at the home of Zakieya L. Avery, 28, of Cherry Bend Drive Germantown, after a neighbor called 911 and told police a car door outside of the home had its doors open and there was a bloody knife lying nearby.
Officers found Avery inside, with her roommate, Monifa Sanford, 21.
According to police, the two killed Avery’s 1-year-old son, Norell Harris, and her 2-year-old daughter, Zyana Harris in an attempted exorcism.
Officers found the children’s bodies washed and wrapped in blankets on Avery’s bed, prosecutors said in Avery’s bail review on Tuesday. The two also stabbed Avery’s 5-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old son, but both of those children survived the assaults.
Avery and Sanford were part of a group that called themselves the “Demon Assassins,” prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, when they were interviewed, the women told investigators that they had seen a demon leap from child to child, turning their eyes black.
Montgomery County police investigators said they talked with Joyce after the slayings to try to learn more information about Avery.
In an interview with The Gazette on Wednesday, Joyce said “it had been many months, closer to a year,” since Avery had been to his church. Joyce said neither Sanford or Avery were members of his congregation when the murders took place.
The name of the church comes from a Greek word that means “authority.” The church preaches “Christ-centered Bible teaching,” and does not belong to a larger federation of churches, he said.
On her Facebook page, Avery posted several messages about her faith. In part of one post, she wrote: “The word of God is not all about money yet about the Lords teaching and following his commandments. If Jesus Christ is not your lord and savior i hate to be the one to tell you but your life is not in his hands but in satan’s. think about that and give the lord Jesus Christ your heart today.”
Avery also posted on her Facebook page that she had worked at a pharmaceutical services company and at the Maranatha Brethren Church in Hagerstown, according to her Facebook page.
Officials at the Brethren church did not immediately respond to calls for comment.