No drugs found in voodoo-ritual death

The Philadelphia Inquirer/September 18, 2009

Toxicology results have come back negative in the July 11 death of a transgender woman during a voodoo ritual in Sicklerville, according to a spokeswoman for the family.

Lucille Hamilton, 20, of Little Rock, was found dead inside the home of a man who went by the name of Houngan Hector and who described himself on his Web site as a voodoo priest trained in Haiti.

Authorities said the ritual was a cleansing ceremony, known in voodoo as lave tet. Neighbors said the home was the site of rituals nearly every weekend, with cars parked outside from around the country.

Jeana Huie, who said she was media liaison for Hamilton's family, said the fact that the tests found no harmful levels of drugs, alcohol, or other substances in Hamilton's system raised as many questions as it answered.

"We're more confused, and we were hoping for more closure than we got," she said.

Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, said he could not confirm the results of the toxicology tests because authorities had not determined a cause of death.

"The question still remains unanswered as to why this person died," he said, adding that investigators will review tissue samples and continue investigating.

Hamilton had "worked her butt off" to save money she earned over the summer at a flag and banner shop to pay for the ritual and round-trip airfare. It was the first time she had traveled alone, Huie said.

Randi Romo, executive director of the Center for Artistic Revolution, a group in the Arkansas capital, has described Hamilton as fiercely brave and confident in her identity. Hamilton felt the trip was needed on her "spiritual path" as she prepared to begin college, Romo said. Huie said Hamilton had enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for the fall.

"She was a healthy person; we don't understand it," Romo said of the results.

Hamilton cofounded a youth chapter at the center and was a role model to many kids there, Romo has said. Huie said Hamilton's funeral was a standing-room-only affair.

"We certainly do not plan on just letting it go unknown," Huie said. "One way or the other, we plan on finding out what happened to her. We owe her that much."

Huie said that Hamilton's 21st birthday would have been Sunday and that it had been a difficult week for Hamilton's mother.

Terry Rey, the chair of Temple University's religion department, said that given his knowledge of the lave tet ceremony, the negative toxicology results are "exactly what I expected."

"The fact that it happened in the context of a voodoo ritual is unfortunate for the voodoo community," he said. "But the fact that it came back negative should help combat any misperceptions."

Gro Mambo Angela Novanyon, head of the Philadelphia-based National African Religion Congress, which works to certify voodoo priests, said the death "might have been spiritual."

She maintained her position that the incident highlighted the need for voodoo priests to be certified. She said she also was not surprised that the results were negative.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.