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Father gets 11 years in prison for drowning daughter in church baptismal pool

Baptismal pool at St. John the Baptist Church
The baptismal pool at St. John the Baptist Church in Healdsburg, California, is decorated in honor of Maria Jose Ordaz Chavarria, a 4-year-old girl who was drowned there by her father while he was high on drugs. |

A judge in northern California has sentenced a man to 11 years in prison for drowning his 4-year-old daughter in the baptismal pool of a Catholic church while high on methamphetamine.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert LaForge took just three minutes Wednesday to sentence Gerardo Mendoza Ordaz to 11 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter for drowning his daughter Maria Jose Ordaz Chavarria five years ago. The drowning took place in a cross-shaped pool inside St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Healdsburg on Nov. 20, 2016, The Press Democrat reported.

Ordaz agreed to plead no contest to voluntary manslaughter and child abuse charges in lieu of a murder charge, which could have led to a 25 years-to-life sentence. Ordaz faced a charge of child abuse for the emotional trauma inflicted on his son, now 14, who witnessed the killing of his sister. 

“Certainly, I’m going to give you the maximum allowed by law based on what I read,” the judge said. “There were a couple things that were concerning. Your statement was concerning, minimizing. I want you to know that.”

After smoking methamphetamine and going without sleep for three days, Ordaz started believing that his two youngest children as well as himself were “being attacked by evil.” He walked the children a mile and a half away from their home to St. John’s on the evening of Nov. 20, 2016 and looked for a priest.

After he couldn’t find a priest, Ordaz took his daughter and his 9-year-old son to the church’s cross-shaped baptismal pool filled with one to two feet of water, believing the holy water would drive away the “spirits in himself and his children.” He told police that he drank the holy water and told his children to drink the water, too.

According to a written report prepared by a probation officer, Ordaz claimed that he just “gave her water” and never submerged her. “He commented that when he gave her water, her hair ‘went up’ (levitated) and he was afraid, so he gave her more water with his hand,” as per court documents. He alleged that after “she drowned and made a noise,” he carried her body to the nearby police station and sought assistance. 

“That’s how this tragedy happened,” Ordaz recalled, claiming his daughter “did not cry or scream” before she died. Local news outlet KTVU reported that Ordaz stood naked in the police station’s parking lot yelling “help” and “police” in Spanish. While Maria was fully clothed and drenched with holy water, his son was only wearing shorts. 

After the incident, Ordaz went to a state hospital for mental treatment. He was brought back to police in 2019, when doctors concluded that his mental health had been restored. He later expressed some degree of remorse for what happened, acknowledging that “he had some part in the incident.”

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