April 10, 2008 — -- A young mother has confessed to brutally slashing her daughter to death because she believed the child — who had a history of sleepwalking — was possessed by the devil, authorities in Illinois said this week.
Nelly Vasquez-Salazar, 25, is being held on $5 million bond after appearing in court Tuesday to face a first-degree murder charge.
Authorities found the body of Vasquez-Salazar's 6-year-old daughter, Evelyn Vasquez, early Monday morning in the family's Waukegan, Ill., apartment. The child, who died of multiple stab wounds to her neck and upper chest, according to the coroner, was found on the floor of her bedroom.
She had been stabbed 11 times, prosecutors and investigators said at a Tuesday news conference. A butcher's knife that they believe to be the murder weapon was recovered, as was a religious picture featuring St. Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. The artwork had been cut up by a knife.
"She had had conversations with her mother because Evelyn had been sleepwalking and [Vasquez-Salazar] would wake up and her daughter would be standing by her bed," William Biang, Waukegan police chief, told ABC News. "The theory was that the daughter was possessed."
Authorities responded to the apartment at 4:40 a.m. Monday after Vasquez-Salazar went to a neighbor's apartment reportedly covered with slashes to her own hands and wrists.
Vasquez-Salazar initially told investigators that she killed her daughter in self-defense after the child came at her with a knife, according to Stephen Scheller, an assistant state's attorney in Lake County, but the woman later admitted to being fearful of a daughter possessed by the devil.
"The first statement we received from the defendant was that it was an act of self-defense," Scheller said. "After she made the statement to detectives, she later recanted it, made a second statement, which she admitted in fact she had stabbed her daughter multiple times about the body."
Domenic Cappelluti, a detective for the Waukegan police, cited a recent call between the suspect and the suspect's mother in Mexico that could have, in part, prompted the killing.
"In summary, Nelly said, 'My daughter is sleepwalking,'" Cappelluti said. "She called mom for advice, her mom said she might be possessed and then Nelly took it for whatever she took it for."
Cappelluti also described the suspect as remaining calm throughout a videotaped interrogation and answering all of the investigators' questions.
During part of her interview with police, Cappelluti said, the suspect described blaming "certain incidents and people besides herself at first, but then later stating that she blamed herself for how she murdered her daughter."
Despite the woman's ability to remain composed during interviews with police, she broke down when she was led off to jail, saying she did not deserve to live, and then again in court during arraignment while prosecutors outlined their evidence, ABC News' WLS-TV in Chicago reported.
Evelyn was born in Denver, where her father now lives, according to WLS. She had lived in Mexico with her grandmother until the summer when she moved to Waukegan, a community of 90,000 residents midway between Chicago and Milwaukee along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Grief counseling was made available at the elementary school where Evelyn was a member of the kindergarten class.
Co-workers of Vasquez-Salazar, who worked weekend shifts as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant until January, described the suspect as a caring mother, according to the Lake County News-Sun, which says she may have recently suffered a miscarriage.
Attempts by ABC News to reach Gloria Najera, Vasquez-Salazar's attorney, were unsuccessful.
"It's always a situation when you lose a child like that, it has a bigger impact on the community," Biang said. "This is something that shouldn't happen."
In January, authorities in Washington, D.C., discovered the bodies of four children ages 5 to 16 decomposing in a row house. Their mother, Banita Jacks, 33, told police that her daughters were possessed and that they had died in their sleep.
Jacks remains held without bond. She faces four counts of murder, though the cause of death for the children remains inconclusive.
In February, Jan David Clark, 60, was arrested after his wife died during what he described as an "exorcism" inside his Texas home. Clark told authorities that the devil entered her body during the religious ritual and caused the death.
Lawrence Douglas Harris Sr. was charged in January with two counts of first-degree murder after his two stepdaughters were found fatally stabbed and strangled inside a burning house in Sioux City, Iowa.
Harris told authorities that the girls died during a religious ritual inside the house.