Child in 'raising ceremony' starved more than 20 days

A 2-year-old boy who died last month had been starved for more than 20 days by his parents and church members they lived with before his death.

BALCH SPRINGS – A two-year-old boy who died last month 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.

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.

The Third Church Leader

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 third church leader said she had been waiting "for the right time" to come forward to police with information about the child's death. She said on the Saturday before the child died, she was getting ready to cook in the kitchen when she noticed the boy on the table looking frail and weak. The witness said she saw the boy falling and hitting his head several times, but said she was told not to intervene because of the child's "demonic possession."

The third church leader said after a while, Araceli Meza told her the boy "all of a sudden lost control and he was like a rag doll." She said Mrs. Meza told her that "this was the spirit of manipulation."

The witness said Mrs. Meza then told the boy's mother, Liliana Aparicio, of his "possession." The church leader then didn't see the boy again until the Sunday morning church service. The mother was holding the child in her arms, but the witness told police she was incoherent that day because of a demonic possession and an exorcism was performed on her.

The third church leader told police Daniel Zapata Meza was holding the boy and trying to revive him because God was going to perform a miracle. She said that despite her condition, she remembered screaming that the boy was dead.

She told police she saw the deceased child again in a 3 a.m. church service early Monday morning where they prayed for the boy then took his body to a bed. They held another service between 10 and 11 a.m. that morning and Araceli Meza said God spoke to her and told her the parents should take the boy to Puebla, Mexico. That afternoon, the Meza family and the boy's family left with his body for Mexico.

The Mother With a Diary

When the police returned the third church leader to the home, a 39-year-old witness told police she would also like to be interviewed at the station and she brought with her a diary she had kept of what she had witnessed.

That witness, who had lived at the home about four months, told police the boy was healthy looking before the fasting, and that she felt sorry for the boy and would give him food. The mother told police Araceli Meza found out and separated her from the victim. She said she asked the boy's mother why she was allowing it and the mother told her "it was God's will."

The mother with the diary said she was living in Mexico when Araceli Meza took her children to the U.S. for a better life. She came to Mezas' residence and was given a room to stay in, but was not allowed to leave it other than when she was eating or going to the bathroom. She was also not allowed contact with her children or other members of the residence, she said.

She gave the diary to police, but it's contents were not included in the arrest warrant.

The Foster Daughter

Finally, as police were dropping off that witness, a third, 20-year-old witness whose foster parents are Araceli and Daniel Zapata Meza agreed to speak to police.

She told police that the victim and his mother were fasting on January 16 or 17 until the beginning of February. After the fasting, Araceli Meza began sitting with the boy and feeding him. Mrs. Meza would pray and the victim had to say "Amen," or she would withhold food. The foster daughter said after a couple of weeks Mrs. Meza began saying if the boy did not go to the restroom and change himself, one meal would be taken away. The foster daughter said there were times when the 2-year-old would only eat once a day.

The foster daughter told police she had just returned from her job to the home on the day before they boy's death when she saw the victim's "head going back" as he was picking up crayons. She described the same church service Sunday morning, prayer at 3 a.m. on Monday, and sequence of events leading up to the group's departure to Mexico that the other witnesses had described.

Araceli Meza

On April 1, Daniel Zapata Meza and Araceli Meza went to the Balch Springs Police Department to meet with detectives.

Araceli Meza was questioned and she asked why she was there. Police told her it was because of the boy's death.

Mrs. Meza told police that she had left the boy with the third church leader the day before the boy's death as the drove her foster daughter to work. Meza said she came home and the boy was on the floor. She said the boy had fallen down, and she spanked him with a sandal to get a response, but the boy was unresponsive. Mrs. Meza said she then picked him up and up him back down and the boy fell down again, but did not cry. She said she brought the boy to his mother and told him she didn't know what was wrong, as she couldn't see any marks or bruising on the boy's head.

Araceli Meza said the boy's mother told her she wanted him to rest. Meza also told police the third church leader was in charge of feeding the kids, but that she had not checked with her to ask if the boy had eaten. Mrs. Meza also said she didn't pay attention to what was going on "due to her doing her own thing."

According to the arrest warrant, Mrs. Meza said she last saw the boy alive between 4 and 5 a.m. on Sunday, March 22. She said she heard him cry or moan and went in the room and covered him up. She woke up for church the next morning around 9 a.m. and went to get the victim ready for the service. Meza told police she was surprised to find the boy "was cold to the touch." However, Meza said she "got a spirit that said [the victim] was asleep." She told the boy's mother, Liliana Aparicio, to take a look at him and told the mother that "God had told [Meza] that [the victim's] spirit was asleep and that the body was cold."

Araceli Meza told police the boy was thin because he was fasting and that she didn't know when it began, but it ended on the day he died, March 22. Meza told police the boy was supposed to fast for 20 days and that he would have water four or five times a day with no food. She said the victim's parents approved of the fasting and that it began because the third church leader influenced Meza to withhold food from the boy "because of demons," though Mrs. Meza did say she made the final decision.

Mrs. Meza said the boy's mother had also been fasting, but it had been for less days. She also admitted she had told the third church leader and Daniel Zapata Meza not to give the boy food "so that the fasting would work." Meza said the victim was healthy before the fasting, looked strong during it, and that the child's parents could have ended it at any time they chose to. Meza said she asked God why they "needed to do this because it was too much for a kid to go through this." She said the victim would go to routine doctor visits, but after the fasting they didn't believe the boy needed to see the doctor and "God would provide for [him.]"

According to the document, Araceli Meza stressed that while she did encourage the others not to feed the boy, the final decision was made by the boy's parents, Liliana and Zenon Aparicio. Mrs. Meza said she told the parents the boy needed a 20-day fasting, but it "just kept going without any actual stop day." She said no one knew the fasting was going to stop, and said it was his parents' responsibility to get the child medical attention.

She then claimed after the 20-day fasting, the boy was normal and eating, but three weeks later, he was dead. Araceli Meza said the fasting ended when the victim "looked like an alien, that was the sign and the demons were gone."

Araceli Meza said she had fasted twice -- once for three days and again for seven days. She told police "she would defy God if she was told to do another fasting for a child because it was too hard on her," the document said.

Mrs. Meza told police the boy's body died on March 22, but his soul was asleep. She said she was not sure if the fasting killed the boy, but she took responsibility because she was the leader of the church.

Araceli Meza was arrested on Monday and charged with injury to a child. She is being held on $100,000 bond.

The child's parents remain at large.


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