'I was thinking it was a mass suicide': Cops reveal the 'utter chaos' at cult lodge where three died and 18 were injured in 2009 after they endured days of fasting and sleep deprivation before bizarre sweat ceremony

Daily Mail, UK/April 23, 2020

By Andrew Court

Police officers are recalling the graphic scenes they encountered at a remote desert retreat where three people died in a 'sweat-lodge ceremony' gone wrong.

Detective Ross Diskin and Deputy Craig Bollen were called to the 'Spiritual Warrior' camp outside of Sedona, Arizona on October 8, 2009, responding to reports of death and mass injury.

The case is now at the center of a new episode of Deadly Cults, set to air on Oxygen this coming Sunday night, which includes interviews with the two officers.

The pair say that, more than a decade on, they are still shocked by what they saw.

'I remember as I was driving down there I could see this large dome covered in tarps, and I begin noticing women with their heads shaved walking around almost in a daze,' Detective Diskin states in a preview clip for the upcoming episode.

'I thought "This has got to be some kind of cult"'.

Meanwhile, Deputy Craig Bollen has described the scene as 'utter chaos'.

'In my mind I was thinking it was a mass suicide, because I've never had a call with that many people needing assistance.'

Bollen says that after he arrived, he saw 50 or 60 people, many of whom were lying on the ground waiting for medical assistance. 

'There was so many people, my walls came down, I didn't know what to do,' he emotionally tells Oxygen in the new episode of Deadly Cults.

Three people died and 18 others were injured inside the 'sweat lodge' - which came at the end of a five-day spiritual retreat conducted by self-help guru James Arthur Ray.

Participants paid more than $9,000 each to attend Ray's 'Spiritual Warrior' event with the sweat lodge planned as the highlight.

During the five-day retreat the participants endured fasting, mind-altering breathing exercises and sleep-deprivation before the sweat ceremony even began.

The sweat lodge was touted as a hot structure in which participants could have powerful emotional breakthroughs. It was a created with tarps and included hot rocks set up in the center which would be watered in order to release steam. 

Ray apparently told guests it would become 'hellacious hot' but assured them that even though they might vomit, enter into altered states of mind and feel like they were dying, they would not die.

Many participants have said Ray ignored pleas for help once they were inside and chided them for wanting to leave, even as people were vomiting, getting burned by hot rocks in the center and lying unconscious on the ground.

When it was over, 38-year-old Kirby Brown of Westtown, New York, and 40-year-old James Shore of Milwaukee were dead and 18 others injured. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minnesota, slipped into a coma and died after more than a week in the hospital.

Ray was eventually convicted to two years in prison for negligent homicide convictions.

He was freed from a state prison in Buckeye, near Phoenix, in July 2013 after serving 85 per cent of his sentence.

None of the victim's families believe the 20 month sentence was long enough.

'Ideally, we don't want [Ray] doing anything in the industry anymore,' Puckett said. 'I don't think he has the right to work with people, ' one stated.

'If he does move forward with that, I hope people become aware of what he did and he changes the way that he handles his seminars and his teachings.'

Ray has unsuccessfully attempted to relaunch his career as a motivational speaker.

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