Eight members of a Mexican family were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of ritual sacrificial killing of two children and a woman in the small mining community of Nacozari in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.
Prosecutors accused the arrested people belonging to a cult known as La Santa Muerte (Holy Death) of involvement in a ritual killing ceremony in which the blood of victims was poured around an altar dedicated to an idol shown as a skeleton holding a scythe and clothed in white robes. The idol is a symbol of death as The Grim Reaper.
According to the BBC, the death-themed cult has grown very fast in the last two decades in Mexico, and is estimated to have about two million followers. Daily Mail reports that as with many indigenous "pagan" cults in the Latin world, La Santa Muerte is a mixture of Catholic and indigenous native beliefs. Fox News reports that Santa Muerte is popular among Mexican drug traffickers and criminals and arose in poor Mexico city neighborhoods in the 1940s as an "eccentric" blend of Christian, Indian and folk traditions.
A spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, Jose Larrinaga, said the last killing involving the Santa Muerte group in in the mining community of Nacozari, occurred early in March, while other killings occurred in 2009 and 2010. The bodies of the victims were found at an altar site.
According to BBC, police launched investigations after disappearance of a ten-year-old boy named Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez early in March. Fox News reports that Larrinaga said when the police questioned members of the boy's family they gave contradictory statements and soon confessed they had killed the boy "as a sacrifice to Santa Muerte (Holy Death)." When they were questioned about the disappearance of another boy earlier reported missing, they "admitted to killing him as well and finally confessed that they had also slain a woman."
The suspects took the police to where they had buried the three victims.
Prosecutor Jose Larrinaga claimed that the ritual killings were done in the night with candles lit. He said: "They sliced open the victims' veins and, while they were still alive, they waited for them to bleed to death and collected the blood in a container."
BBC confirms that those arrested were members of the same family. One of the suspects, a woman, Silvia Meraz, and her son Ramon Palacios, were alleged to be leaders of the cult. The woman, speaking to reporters, said: "We all agreed to do it. Supposedly she [the female victim] was a witch or something."
Officials say they are carrying out investigations to determine whether other people were killed and whether there were other people involved in the cult activities.
The Vatican condemns La Santa Muerte and does not recognize it as belonging to the Church.