Aracely Meza, a cult leader from Dallas, was recently sentenced to 99 years in prison for starving a toddler to death. She believed that he was possessed by a demon and that exorcism by starvation was needed to break the demonic hold over the boy.
It has taken almost three years to get justice for Benjamin, but the cult leader is now finally behind bars. There were many red flags, from cult behavior to violence, but the neighbors did nothing about it.
This is just one example of a string of cases where people have harmed or killed children with different forms of quackery. Some of them get away with it, while others are sent to prison.
Meza joins the ranks of some of the worst contemporary cult leaders in the United States.
Benjamin Aparicio starved to death to get rid of a “demon”
Aracely Meza and her husband ran a church called Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Ray from a house in the Dallas suburb Balch Springs. Aracely was a pastor and vice president of the church. On April 13th, 2015, the police arrested her for causing serious bodily injury. The investigation revealed a stunning story taken right out of some horror movie.
Aracely was, in essence, a cult leader. She considered herself a prophet. She labeled those who dared to question her as questioning the creator or being possessed demons. Aracely separated parents from their children while they were still young enough to be breastfed. She did exorcisms and made people in her church fast on a strict schedule.
Her controlling behavior went so far as to starve a boy called Benjamin Aparicio for food during three weeks, giving him only water. Even after the full-blown starvation stopped, she continued to withhold food and prevented others from giving food to Benjamin. Her reason? She believed that Benjamin was possessed by “demons of manipulation” and that starvation was the only way to cure him from it.
In reality, Benjamin Aparicio was starved over several weeks until he died. After he had died, the cult leader spent hours on a resurrection ceremony that was video taped where she talks in tongues. There is also a video of the day that Benjamin died. He had fallen on the floor, likely because of his body having been broken down due to starvation. Cult leader Aracely Meza picks him up and starts repeatedly spanking him. The videos show the terrible signs of a starving child.
He was starved for almost two months
Working backwards, the complete starvation likely started on or around January 23 of 2015. It ends approximately 21 days later on February 13. Benjamin dies on March 22 and the police arrested Aracely Meza is on April 13. This means that the boy endured almost two months of starvation, either total starvation or near total starvation, before dying.
Needless to say, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that the “demon on manipulation” possessed Benjamin Aparicio or that the exorcism worked.
What punishment did Aracely Meza get?
The court sentenced the cult leader Aracely Meza to 99 years in prison. She also has to pay a fine of 10 000 USD. Meza will very likely die in prison.
There are ongoing prosecutions and deals being made with other people in the cult. Some lower-level members of the cult have entered or are likely to enter various plea deals in order to get the cult leader herself convicted.
The parents are undocumented immigrants and may get deported to Mexico. Imagine immigrating to the United States, being hunted by deportation forces, ending up in a deadly cult, watching your child getting starved to death and then risk getting deported. A cruel series of events.
There were many red flags
This did not happen out of the blue. There were many, many red flags.
Aracely Meza separated children from the parents. She claimed to be a prophet and had strong control over people’s lives. People in the cult report being in a trance. Meza claimed that the devil had possessed critics in her own community. She also claimed that questioning her was like questioning the creator.
The cult took advantage of undocumented immigrants. Neighbors saw a beaten women outside the house. The cult leader visited neighbors demanding to get the birth certificates of their children to bring in even more undocumented immigrants into their cult. Aracely Meza stopped members of the cult from feeding the starving child. Some reports indicated that the boy “look like an alien” after the full starvation period was stopped.
The husband of the cult leader tore up business cards from neighbors who helped with roofing multiple times in front of them. One neighbor reported the father to the dead child looking “brainwashed”. Other neighbors reported hearing a child screaming and getting hit. The children in the house stopped playing in the front yard.
Each of these red flags on their own might not necessarily be cause for that much concern (apart from the violence). Together, they paint a picture of something really, really bad happening.
Other quacks and cranks sent to prison for harming children
It is still quite rare that people who scam people with alternative medicine and shady supplements get any punishment. This is true even if they directly harm people. Yet, there are some promising developments going on in Canada, Australia and even the United States.
The Ezekiel Stephan case
David and Collet Stephan let their son Ezekiel suffer for two weeks with meningitis before he died in 2012. They did not take him to a hospital. Instead, they gave him a wide range of different kinds of supplements. They did not take him to the hospital until it was far, far too late. They were convicting of failing to provide the necessaries of life in 2016. Their appeal was dismissed and they were convicted again in the Court of Appeals. They are currently waiting to hear the Supreme Court of Canada hear their final appeal.
The father was sentenced to four months in prison, and the wife got a reduced sentence of three months in house arrest. This was because she did make an effort by searching on the Internet for symptoms and talking with a nurse. David Stephan, on the other hand, was completely remorseless. He has since been holding talks at wellness expos, but also booted from one such health conference. Presumably, it was a bit strange to have someone lecturing people about health after refusing to give their own child the emergency health care that he needed. They have since promoted a wide range of conspiracy theories about the case and refused to take any responsibility.
The Ryan Lovett case
Tamara Lovett was convicted for neglecting her son Ryan to death due to a group A streptococcal infection. Tamara thought her son just had a cold and tried to “treat” it with different kinds of alternative medicine. She almost escaped punishment altogether due to long delays in the criminal justice system. Thankfully, she was ultimately sentenced to three years in prison.
The Alexandru Radita case
Alexandru Radita died of complications to type 1 diabetes. More specifically, he was murdered by starvation by his parents Rodica and Emil Radita. They did not believe in the existence of type 1 diabetes and refused to give Alexandru any insulin. Alexandru nearly escaped death when he was younger. He was hours before death before he was saved by hospital personnel. He was taken from the parents and placed in foster care where he recovered. However, a judge refused to listen to the evidence presented by a social worker (including the fact that the Radita family had a child that previously died under mysterious circumstances).
The judge gave Alexandru back to the parents who would later murder him. He became unwell again and now the parents had sunk even deeper into the conspiracy swamp. They thought that the hospital had given their son type 1 diabetes and that insulin made him sick. This corresponds to some conspiracy theories about type 1 diabetes on the Internet. The court sentenced both parents to life in prison.
They are currently in the process of appealing their life sentences.
Why are punishments often so lenient?
The sentences are often shorter than what one would expect. The current situation, however, is that it is common for parents and scammers to not get any punishment whatsoever. Thus, we are in a situation where it is a good thing that they are at least given some kind of punishment. More funding should be put towards finding, arresting and prosecuting criminals like this. Sick children should not fall between the cracks of a less than competent social safety system.
It often take years for cases to go through the court systems as well. The wheels of justice grinds exceedingly slow, but sometimes they land perpetrators in prison.
This terrible killing of Benjamin could have been prevented. Law enforcement could have done more when it comes to monitoring and investigating cults. Social services could have done more to help the family out of the cult. Neighbors could have made anonymous reports to the police or the social services. Society and the government could have done more to improve the situation for undocumented immigrants.
It is unclear what will ultimately happen with the parents. They might get deported. What will happened with the cult? That is also unclear. The husband is still running it, but now many cult members will experience how the outside world looks at them and may have a better chance to escape.
Aracely Meza will very likely send the rest of her life in prison. She will probably not be able harm any of her cult members again.
Justice, but too late for Benjamin.