A 4-year-old Missouri girl has been found dead after being attacked by two neighbors who claimed they wanted to remove a “demon” from her family, police say.
Ethan Mast, 35, and Kourtney Aumen, 21, are now facing second-degree murder and other charges following the discovery of the child’s body over the weekend at a home in Cole Camp, southeast of Kansas City.
“Based on what I know, I think this could be some kind of honest-to-goodness religious-type episode,” Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox told the Associated Press.
The suspects and the victimized family belonged to the same church, but Knox declined to name the church or its denomination.
Deputies say they were called around 1 a.m. Sunday to a rural home and found the 4-year-old wrapped in a blanket on a bedroom floor.
A probable cause statement from Sgt. Chris Wilson said the girl was already dead and had “severe purple bruising” over her body, along with ruptured blisters.
Knox said the girl’s parents also had been beaten along with a 2-year-old child. An infant son of the couple was apparently unharmed. The mother, 28-year-old Mary Mast, and the toddler are hospitalized. Their conditions weren’t immediately available, while the father of the children, James Mast, did not require hospitalization.
Despite having the same last names, Mary and James Mast are not related to Ethan Mast, Knox told the Associated Press. Ethan Mast and Aumen live across the road from the family.
James Mast told investigators that the beatings had occurred over several days and that he and his wife observed them but were told they would be beaten themselves or shot if they tried to intervene.
Wilson asked James Mast “how he could let people do this to his family and he stated they were told (his wife) had a ‘demon’ inside her and her children would end up just like her if it was not taken care of,” Wilson wrote in the probable cause statement.
Ethan Mast told investigators that on Saturday he and Aumen used a leather belt to beat the girl, the statement continued. She was then taken to a pond behind the home, where she was “dunked” in the water on a day when high temperatures were in the 40s.
Ethan Mast said everyone then returned to the victims’ home. It wasn’t clear when the child died. An autopsy will determine the cause of death, yet Knox said evidence indicated she was beaten to death.
“To have something of this magnitude happen in our sleepy little community is insane,” Knox said.
Both Ethan Mast and Aumen are jailed without bond and don’t yet have attorneys, according to court records.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.