A Northern California mother who claimed she was trying to exorcise demons from her daughter has been booked on suspicion of biting, choking and shoving handfuls of sand into the girl's mouth and eyes on a crowded beach, authorities said.
Kimberly Felder, a 45-year-old Ferndale resident, was arrested Friday morning on suspicion of attempted homicide, assault with a deadly weapon, felony child abuse and aggravated mayhem, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said in a statement.
The ordeal unfolded about 9 a.m. when authorities received a report of a mother attacking a small girl at Centerville Beach County Park near Ferndale, a small city with Victorian-era homes about 20 miles south of Eureka, Calif.
The witness told authorities the mother was trying to perform an exorcism. She had stripped the 11-year-old girl naked and attacked her with sand, Honsal said.
"The mother stated she was trying to remove the demons from the child," the sheriff said.
As Felder viciously hit, bit and choked the girl, Honsal said, a crowd of 10 to 12 people arrived and saw the incident. During the attack, Felder severely bit her daughter's right ear, authorities said.
Resident John Marciel couldn't stand by and watch the beating, so he stepped in and restrained Felder, Lt. Ken Swithenbank said.
As Marciel fought with Felder on the ground, she struck her daughter on the head with a piece of driftwood, authorities said.
A sheriff's deputy later arrived and arrested Felder.
As deputies took Felder into custody, Marciel tended to the girl, Swithenbank said.
The girl was hospitalized for multiple injuries. She will probably require reconstructive surgery to her ear, he said.
It is unclear what led the mother to believe her daughter was possessed and needed an exorcism, Swithenbank said.
The incident, he said, was "strange " and "very disturbing" for deputies.
Authorities said if it were not for Marciel's heroism and swift actions, the girl would have been killed.
"He was shook up pretty good," Swithenbank said. "It's very heroic what he did."
For his heroism, the lieutenant said, sheriff's officials have requested that Marciel be recognized with the Red Cross Lifesaver Award.