'Sweat Lodge' Survivor Says James Arthur Ray Abandoned Participants Beverly Bunn Said Ray Left After Deaths and 'Never Came Back'

ABC News, Good Morning America/October 23, 2009

One of the survivors of the Arizona sweat lodge disaster said that as participants lay dying and injured, leader James Arthur Ray simply left the scene.

"James Ray pretty much abandoned all of us. He left us there to figure out what was going on," orthodontist Beverly Bunn told "Good Morning America" today. "After the incident he never came back."

Bunn's roommate at the Sedona spiritual retreat was Kirby Brown, one of the three people who died after being crammed into a makeshift tent and subjected to 120-degree heat that was supposed to cleanse their bodies.

Bunn, trained in CPR as part of her medical credentials, said she repeatedly tried to perform the life-saving measures on her friend, but was continuously rebuffed by Ray's employees known as the "Dream Team."

"I told them about 10 times, 'I know CPR, I know CPR,'" she said. "They kept pulling me away and pulling me away."

Detectives are now investigating the deaths as a possible homicide, though no charges have been filed.

In addition to Brown, James Shore, 40, and Liz Neuman, 49, died after enduring the sweat lodge. Neuman spent more than a week in a coma and died Oct. 17. Eighteen others were injured.

Another survivor, Sidney Spencer, 59, is now suing Ray, saying she nearly died from kidney and liver failure.

"Mr. Ray created a death trap," Spencer's attorney, Ted Schmidt, told "GMA" today. "And created a heat environment in that sweat lodge that was intolerable for human beings."

The two women were among dozens who paid $9,000 for the five-day retreat with Ray, a motivational speaker.

Bunn said Ray, who sat near the only opening of the tent, allowing fresh air in only to accept more heated rocks, didn't seem overly concerned when people became ill, some of them vomiting.

"That was actually considered your body actually purging it's toxins," Bunn said. "I guess he felt that was a good thing."

The day after the deadly sweat lodge gathering, the remaining participants awoke to find a note on the table from a Ray staffer, "saying James was in prayer and meditation."

That, Bunn said, was the last she heard from the man so many trusted with their lives and spiritual awakening.

"We trusted him," Bunn said. "We trusted in what he was teaching us."

Ray, a frequent guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" who helped write the best-selling documentary and book, "The Secret," has refused all interview requests, but in a message on his Web site he told followers that he felt their pain, and that while he was also investigating what went wrong, he is determined to continue with his self-help ministry.

Other participants inside have said they were screaming "We need water," vomiting and fighting to stay alive.

Brown, a surfer and hiker, was in excellent health, according to her family.

"She was the picture of perfect health," Tom McFeeley, Brown's cousin, told "Good Morning America" Oct. 12. "Nobody could keep up with her physically or in any other way. She was just that type of person."

Brown had been to other retreats hosted by Ray, even bringing her parents, but none of them required a physical component to his teachings, McFeeley said.

"We have not heard from Mr. Ray or anyone in his organization," McFeeley said. "It does surprise us, based on the type of man we thought he was."

But McFeeley was quick to point out that the Brown family does not have any ill-will toward Ray, saying it's dangerous to make assumptions when they still have so many unanswered questions.

"For us to even have anger or any such emotion is pointless at this point," he said. "There will be plenty of time to react to the truth."

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