The Associated Press
The questions about Ronald Marquez haven’t stopped since police said officers burst into his sweltering cinderblock home and tried to stop a bloody exorcism of his granddaughter.
Police said Marquez had the 3-year-old in a headlock when they arrived Saturday morning. A family member told them he was trying to “squeeze the demons out of the child.” Police also found Marquez’s 19-year-old daughter in the room, naked, covered with blood, holding a religious picture and chanting.
Officers shocked Marquez, 49, twice with stun guns as they tried to pull the little girl away. He later died.
“This is so bizarre,” said Jan Dahl, who lives down the street. Marquez recently gave her an estimate on laying carpet. “Ron was just a real gentle soul.”
On Monday, neighbors cruised past Marquez’s small gray house and stopped to look at a makeshift memorial on the family’s driveway. Someone placed white carnations next to a picture of what one neighbor said was Marquez smiling with his granddaughter. A cardboard sign told Marquez that his children love him and that he’ll be missed.
“#1 Dad, Love you dad,” the sign said.
But questions remain from a very odd and tragic morning in Phoenix. Why would Marquez barricade himself inside a room with his daughter and granddaughter? Why was he choking his granddaughter? Were they really trying to release demons from the girl?
Veronica Perez, who lives around the corner, questioned whether it really was an exorcism: “I think he was holding his girl, to protect her, because they (police) had guns.”
The Rev. Peter Liuzzi O. Carm, the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Phoenix, said the Marquez family attends Mass every Sunday. Marquez’s brother Frank asked him Saturday to come to the hospital and pray for Marquez after he was shocked.
Liuzzi said family members didn’t mention an exorcism as he counseled them for a few hours in the hospital waiting room.
“I never had any discussion with them about that,” Liuzzi said. “They didn’t give me any details, just that he was shot by a stun gun. That’s all I knew.”
Exorcisms in the Catholic Church date back to biblical times, modeled on the belief that Jesus Christ himself cast out demons.
Today, they’re extremely rare, said the Rev. Christopher Fraser, adjutant judicial vicar for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. He said they’re performed by only certain priests designated by the bishop to be exorcists.
Fraser said that they’re performed only after a psychological evaluation and that the priest would interview the person for “genuine evidence of possession.”
“There are some things like speaking languages that the person does not know. That is one telltale sign. It also involves having unnatural strengths. Also having what the church would call having superhuman knowledge, which would include speaking languages, for example, dead languages that no one speaks anymore,” he said.
Fraser added that a Catholic exorcism would be quite different from the events police described.
“Simply put, it’s a prayer to God to restrain the power of demons over persons and things,” Fraser said. He said an exorcism might require the priest to lay his hands on the person’s head, recite ancient prayers and show a crucifix.
Liuzzi said people living in Phoenix’s Hispanic communities are more likely to seek spiritual solutions to problems. Liuzzi said he gets requests to bless houses about four or five times a year because someone heard noises in the home.
At a Mass attended by Hispanics, Liuzzi said, “you’re asked to bless children. They’ll tell you, ‘My kid’s been naughty this week. Give him a little blessing.’ Suddenly, father is kind of like a magician.”
Phoenix police Sgt. Joel Tranter said one of Marquez’s family members first told them about the exorcism. The relative called officers to the home Saturday, saying that one was performed on the child a few days before and that another was in progress.
Tranter said officers are still investigating the incident and have not identified Marquez’s daughter or granddaughter. Marquez’s daughter remains in the hospital with injuries from blunt-force trauma, he said. The granddaughter has been handed over to state Child Protective Services.
Nobody has been arrested, Tranter said, but “there’s an ongoing investigation for child abuse and aggravated assault against the child.”