By Mike Hellgren

GERMANTOWN, Md. (WJZ) — A murder case in Maryland is getting national attention. We’re hearing from the former pastor of a mom who police say killed her children during an exorcism.

Mike Hellgren has the new interview.

What caused Zakieya Avery—a 28-year-old mother—to snap and, police say, stab her children repeatedly, killing her two youngest inside their home in Germantown?

WJZ has learned a neighbor called Montgomery County Social Services the day before because one of the children had been left alone in a car—but it’s unclear whether the agency ever followed up.

“Speechless. I was just speechless. It’s sad and I feel sorry for the kids,” said neighbor Tracy Strong.

Avery’s former pastor from a church in Hagerstown says she was getting mental health counseling but he didn’t see any warning signs.

“They were confident and happy kids. You get a feel if kids are abused; that did not fit these children,” said Pastor Dan Thornton, Maranatha Brethren Church. “What makes this more shocking to me is that Kia loved those kids.”

Thornton says he never met Monifa Sanford—who was living with Avery and who is also charged with the murders—and the pastor says Avery never mentioned exorcism.

“There were no conversations that I know of in any way related to spiritual things like that,” he said.

This case has some similarities to the murder of a child during a religious exercise in Baltimore. In 2008, members of a cult starved a toddler to death in the city because he would not say amen after meals. They believed he was demon possessed.

Then, as now, there’s a sense of shock in the community.

“It’s scary and it’s sad. We live in a very broken world,” Strong said.

Police recovered two knives they believe the mother used to kill her children.

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