Pastor Aracely Meza Arrested
Aracely Meza, a woman who operated a church at her home in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs has been arrested for allegedly helping starve to death 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.
ABC affiliate WFAA in Dallas reports that the boy
had been starved for more than 20 days by his parents and church members they lived with before his death because they believed he was possessed by demons, according to the arrest warrant for the boy’s parents and a church leader.
The church’s pastor later held a “raising ceremony” to bring the victim back from the dead before the boy’s family fled to Mexico with his body.
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According to the warrant, officers responded to 12300 block of Duke Dr. at 9:26 a.m. on Thursday, March 26, for a welfare check after an anonymous caller told Balch Springs police a two-and-a-half-year-old child had died and was taken out of the country.
When police arrived, witnesses at the home told police the boy had died on March 22 after he had been fasting and only given water for 25 days. One witness claimed she tried to feed the boy on several occasions but “was scolded by the pastors of the church,” which operated out of the home against city code. The pastors were later identified as husband and wife Daniel Zapata Meza, 42, and Araceli Meza, 49.
The witness said the Mezas, along with the child’s parents, Liliana Aparicio and Zenon Aparicio, wrapped the body in a blanket and took it to Mexico on Monday, March 23.
Officers obtained written statements from three witnesses at the home and interviewed Araceli Meza about the case, according to the arrest warrant.
A 35-year-old witness at the home asked to talk to police and was taken to the Balch Springs Police Department for questioning. The witness told police she was staying at the home, which she described as a “church and rehabilitation center” named Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey, or International Church of Jesus the King. The church even has a website boasting of programs for children and even a women’s conference.
She said Daniel Zapata Meza was the pastor and president of the church and Araceli Meza was the prophet and vice president. Members of the church believe Mrs. Meza can talk directly to God.
The witness told police she was the third highest authority in the church and was in charge of cooking and the food pantry.
According to the document, the 35-year-old witness said she had been waiting “for the right time” to come forward to police with information about the child’s death.
Investigators say that many people live in the home. After the child’s death was reported, on April 3, 2015, five other children were removed from the home and placed into foster care.
According to local NBCDFW one church member, Nazareth 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 Menza’s husband was the church’s leader and Menza was its second-ranking officer.
Note: In various news reports the pastor’s name is spelled Araceli instead of Aracely.
Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey — Congregacional Pueblo De Dios
Most news reports identify the church as the Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey (International Church Jesus is the King). Some outlets use the name Congregacional Pueblo De Dios ( Congregational Church of the People of God) instead.
That is likely because the church is listed as Texas General Business under the name Iglesia Congregacional Pueblo De Dios.
Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey also has a Facebook page.
Congregacional Pueblo De Dios, which was formed in 2007, is affiliated with the Hispanic Conference of the Congregational Holiness Church, a Pentecostal denomination based in Griffin, Georgia. The evangelical denomination was created by a schism in the Pentecostal movement in the 1920s.
The church’s website does not mention any affiliations.
Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo of the SMU Perkins School of Theology has a lot of experience with Latin American religions. He scanned the Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey website and said it appears to have been a potentially dangerously independent congregation; one where leaders weren’t accountable to a structured “mother church.”
“So there was nobody to say, ‘This fasting has gone on a little too long… we need to have some rules.’ I didn’t see any evidence of checks and balances,” Wingeier-Rayo said.
As extreme as it sounds, he said this phenomenon is quite common. “I have seen a lot of congregations that start here in the United States, especially dealing with the immigrant population,” the theologian said.
Wingeier-Rayo explains these offshoot churches give isolated followers a sense of culture and community, but can also rob them of perspective — even when their own child is dying as a result of a church ritual.
“You don’t have communication with the outside world, so you are in this small niche, and the people around you are practicing this religion,” he said. “You don’t have the option of checking with other people to say, ‘Hey, is this normal?'”