Top, James Arthur Ray's deleted tweets and, bottom, investigators look over the "sweat lodge" in Arizona.
Top, James Arthur Ray's deleted tweets and, bottom, investigators look over the "sweat lodge" in Arizona. Photo: AP
The organiser of a US spiritual retreat, during which two people died and another 19 had to be admitted to hospital, has been caught deleting potentially incriminating tweets he published during the event.
US authorities are trying to determine if criminal negligence played a role in the deaths, which occurred in a sauna-like sweat lodge at a resort in Arizona during a two-hour "spiritual cleansing ceremony" last Thursday evening.
The organiser of the "Spiritual Warrior" retreat, James Arthur Ray, is an author who holds seminars on wealth creation and was interviewed in the 2006 film The Secret. He has appeared as a guest on shows including Oprah and Larry King Live.
Ray is also an avid tweeter and, even while attendees were falling ill at the retreat, he made several posts to Twitter that were later deleted but not completely removed from the site.
"The Spiritual Warrior has conquered death and therefore has no enemies, and no fear, in this life or the next," he wrote in one.
In another he wrote: "... for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?"
After deleting those tweets Ray published new Twitter messages saying he was "shocked & saddened by the tragedy occurring in Sedona".
He offered "deeply heartfelt" condolences to family and friends of those who died and hoped for a "speedy recovery" for those who fell ill.
He said there were "more questions than answers at this time".
Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said that Ray refused to speak to authorities and had since left the state.
The two victims have been identified as James Shore, 40, and Kirby Brown, 38. A third person is reportedly in a critical condition.
About 55 to 65 people were inside the sweat lodge, each paying $US10,000 ($11,000) for their seat.
In addition to the two people who died, 19 were taken to hospital suffering from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure or elevated body temperature.
The "sweat lodge", similar to a sauna, is a Native American purification tradition in which water is poured on heated rocks.
Joseph Bruchac, the author of a book on the subject, told The New York Times that only eight to 12 people were typically present in a lodge, which was not meant to be air tight.
At the Spiritual Warrior retreat up to 60 people were crammed into a lodge measuring between 76 centimetres and 1.3 metres high and covered in plastic and blankets.
"It means that all these people are fighting for the same oxygen," he said.