Ten people were arrested on Jan. 15 in Panama for the killings of seven indigenous residents of Ngabé Buglé—Panama’s largest indigenous community—in a religious cult ritual. The group accused are called “A New Light of God.”
The incident occured in the remote jungle-clad hills of Ngabé Buglé, where residents must walk long distances along muddy and steep narrow roads to hail boats in order to reach other villages. The indigenous communities there are mostly cut off from the modern world.
Local prosecutor Rafael Baloyes reported that investigators found a makeshift church at a ranch in the area. “They were performing a ritual inside the structure. In that ritual, there were people being held against their will, being mistreated,” Baloyes told The Guardian. Machetes, knives and a ritually sacrificed goat were found at the scene.
“People were dancing and singing and nobody paid attention because we knew that they were in the presence of God,” said Evangelisto Santo to the Chicago Tribune, who is the leader of a tribe in the area. “No one expected this.”
Approximately one mile from the building, recently dug graves were found with seven bodies. The victims included children, a pregnant mother and a 17-year-old woman.
“They searched this family out to hold a ritual and they massacred them, mistreated them, killed practically the whole family,” Baloyes said.
Police raided the property and freed 14 other captives who were then airlifted by helicopter. Police first arrived when news broke that three escaped villagers made their way to a hospital for treatment.
Mario González, the supposed grandfather of the child victims, stands primary suspect for the crimes.
Dina Blanco, a survivor of the attack told her account of the incident to NBC News: “I felt something hit my head, and then I don’t know what happened to me. I dropped to my knees. When I came to, they kept telling me not to open my eyes.”
The sect has been operating in the area for approximately three months, according to The Guardian. The Ngabé Buglé are Panama’s largest ingidenous group, but suffers the greatest rates of poverty in the country, according to a report by Panama America.
The kidnapping and torture began Jan. 11 after one of the members said to have received “a message from God,” Baloyes told BBC News.
Leader of the Youth Association of the Ngäbe Buglé, Ricardo Miranda, issued a statement to Telemetro, saying that the incident acted against Christianity in the region.
“We demand the immediate eradication of this satanic sect, which violates all practices of spirituality and coexistence found in the Holy Scriptures,” Miranda told The Daily Beast.