3-year-old killed, child injured when Poinciana mother made them drink bleach, sheriff says

Joanne Zephir, 36, claims ‘vodoo spell’ made her harm the children

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – A 3-year-old died and an 8-year-old was injured after their mother forced them to drink bleach before trying to kill herself outside a Poinciana church Sunday, Osceola Sheriff Marcos Lopez said in a news briefing Tuesday.

Lopez announced Joanne Zephir, 36, was arrested on an outstanding warrant after deputies found and transported the suspect and her two children, including the toddler who was unconscious in the car, from Poinciana Pentecostal Church of God to the hospital. The 3-year-old later died at the hospital and the 8-year-old was medically released to a family member, records show.

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Zephir, who was previously facing attempted murder and aggravated battery charges in Orange County, went to a family member’s home before the incident, claiming she was going to surrender herself to the police, according to Lopez.

“However, before she turned herself in, she wanted to have time with her children. She took both of her children and left the family member’s residence. Several hours later, she called a family member and told her that she had killed her 3-year-old and the 8-year-old was also going to die and then she would kill herself,” Lopez said.

Deputies said Zephir forced both children to drink bleach from a makeshift glass in addition to choking her toddler.

“The suspect said the reason for doing this to her children is because the victim in Orange County must have put a voodoo spell on her, making her harm her children,” Lopez said.

In addition to her previous charges out of Orange County, the Osceola Sheriff’s Office said Zephir is facing attempted murder and aggravated child abuse charges.

Lopez said they are awaiting the medical examiner’s findings and the toxicology report before filing an official murder charge relating to the 3-year-old’s death.