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Family seeks details in Sedona sweat lodge deaths

SEDONA – A spokesman for the family of one of two people who died after being overcome in an Arizona sweat lodge demanded more accountability Oct. 13 from the man in charge of the spiritual retreat that led to the deaths.

Self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray led a group of more than 50 people last week through a five-day program intended to push people beyond their limits. The course included a sweat lodge ceremony on Oct. 8, which ended tragically in the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and 40-year-old James Shore of Milwaukee.

Nineteen other people were hurt, and one remains in critical condition.

Tom McFeeley, Brown’s cousin and family spokesman, called on Ray to assure that the participants “were not mistreated and not put in a reckless situation.

“He was someone people believed in, people paid good money to get his advice,” McFeeley said. “It’s a person we all wanted to believe had our best interest in mind. Quite simply, that didn’t happen.”

McFeeley also said he is concerned that Ray exhibited a “godlike complex” during the event that might have kept people from opting out of activities Ray acknowledged could cause “physical, emotional, financial or other injuries.”

“We need to look at this way beyond the sweat lodge,” McFeeley said. “If we could understand minute by minute what happened this week, I think we’ll get a much greater view on what kind of event this was and the level of danger that existed.”

Fire department reports released Tuesday show the incident wasn’t the first involving a sweat lodge ceremony at the resort. Verde Valley Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen said his department responded to a 911 call in October 2005 about a person who was unconscious after being in a sweat lodge.

Angel Valley resort owner Amayra Hamilton confirmed that Ray was leading the sweat ceremony during the 2005 event. Ray’s spokesman declined to comment.

No other details about the 2005 incident were immediately available.

Meanwhile, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office continued to investigate last week’s ceremony to determine if criminal negligence played a role in the deaths or illnesses. Authorities said Ray has refused to speak with authorities. No charges have been filed.

Ray’s spokesman, Howard Bragman, has said Ray would speak when it’s appropriate. He declined Tuesday to address the Brown family’s concerns.

“The facts are going to come out,” he said. “We’re not going to conduct our investigation in the media. We’re going to let the investigative bodies do their jobs.”

Authorities say 55 to 65 people attending the program were crowded into the 415-square-foot crudely built sweat lodge during a two-hour period the evening of Oct. 8. Participants paid between $9,000 and $10,000 for the retreat. They were highly encouraged, but not forced, to remain inside for the entire two hours, authorities said.

The participants had fasted for 36 hours as part of a personal and spiritual quest in the wilderness, then ate a breakfast buffet before entering the sweat lodge around 3 p.m. A 911 call two hours later said two people, who authorities said were Shore and Brown, had no pulse and weren’t breathing.

Autopsies on Brown and Shore were conducted, but the results are being withheld pending additional tests. Carbon monoxide poisoning was ruled out as a cause of the deaths and illnesses.

A statement released by the family of Liz Neuman, who remains in critical condition at the Flagstaff Medical Center, said she is in a coma and doctors are working to stabilize damage to multiple organs.

“Liz is fighting hard and her family asks for everyone to keep her in their thoughts and prayers,” the statement said.

Two others remained hospitalized. Fire officials say the victims exhibited symptoms ranging from dehydration to kidney failure after sitting in the sweat lodge.

Officials say the sweat lodge, built specifically for the five-day retreat, lacked the necessary building permit.

Resort owners Amayra Hamilton and her husband, Michael, asked Oct. 13 for prayers in hopes that something positive will come out of what they say was a tragic and unexpected event. The Hamiltons said that a prayer ceremony has been conducted at the sweat lodge site, and a heart-shaped memorial has been laid with stones for Brown and Shore.

Ray has expressed his condolences through social networking sites and said he is praying for the victims and their families.

McFeeley said the Hamiltons have been in contact with the Brown family, but did not receive a call from Ray until Oct. 13.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

6 comments

  1. After hearing about this tradgedy, I can only come to one conclusion.
    This was the fault of the designer of the structure. The bright blue blanket (or more likely PLASTIC tarp), contributed to the deaths and illnessess.

    There have also been unconfirmed reports that the structure was created using plastic (PVC?) tubing.

    If these two assumptions are accurate, then the heat of the lodge was enough to heat the plastic tarp and tubing to the point where they gave off toxic fumes.

    They also didn’t have a permit to build the lodge, and something that big definately needs a permit and needs to be inspected by a professional.

    Anyone who charges even one dollar for the services of a sweat lodge, doesn’t understand the meaning or purpose of the lodge.

  2. James Arthur Ray has stolen one of the most sacred ceremony of the Lakota: inikagapi. He is a fraud and should be held accountable for the death of these two persons.

    I am surprised that nobody mentions the responsibility of Oprah Winfrey.
    She has given a voice to James Arthur Ray, and I do believe that she should be held accountable for the sweat lodge deaths in Sedona.

    Because of her, people have believed in this man who stole one of the most sacred ceremony of the Lakota.
    Because of her, people have been traumatized.
    Because of her, people died.

    I am really shocked that she acted without proper judgement when she let James Arthur Ray sell his ******** during her show. This is a shame!

    I do not understand that nobody intervenes in blogs and forums to tell people about her responsibility.

    Why? Because she is rich?

  3. Linda (Chippewa in Michigan)

    \Nine to ten thousand dollars for this? \out of body experience?\ This organization is comprimising to real to Native Americans Indians.. and blatantly offensive and should be stopped. It’s a hard slap in the face to real Native Americans. Compromising to our culture with phony misappropriations of Indian spirituality. They are not a part of us,,,, not one of us,,, it is so sad,, should have tried to seek therapy to learn to accept your own culture and cease your outrageously ridiculous attempts at trying to emulate ours, These phony fabricated and distorted portrayals are compromising to our culture and damaging to our traditions by propagating ridiculous fabrications!!!! Genocide of a culture is not hip & fashionable!!!!! We are healing,,, Real Native Americans are healing ourselves from the atrocites that happened in our lifetimes, and that is what is being copied by every self appointed Indian ‘Spirtualist Guru’ from here to kingdom come,,,, and then greedily marketed as just some new fad that happens to be hip and fashionable at the time, but this is our religion, we are Indians,, because we are Indians,, not because we trying to become someone else saying to ourselves, lets seek a new religion because ours is too condemning and because were too old to use drugs anymore to drop out and escape reality and morality so now we’ll pay ten thousand dollars to have an out of body experience instead, lets take away our bibles and erase our ten commandments because it is not healthy for our positve self affirmations,, we don’t need to hear about our sins and how our greed has gotten us into the ression we are in by spending what we don’t have., Nine to ten thousand dollars for an ‘out of body’ experience,,, How very sadly ironic!!!! All are responsible!!! Linda Medley (Chippewa in Michigan)

  4. More detailed pictures of the lodge construction from 2007:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesray/1470698284/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesray/1470697894/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesray/1469845679/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesray/1470700850/

    Re: The Oprah connection, James Ray was also feted by the infinitely reptilian and corrupt Larry King: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesray/page133/

    Be quite certain – if you see it on mainstream TV, it’s a lie.

  5. Linda (Chippewa in Michigan)

    In our Nations current economy, people losing their homes, and all that’s going on I can’t fathom how anyone can be so self absorbed and so blind not only for the ridiculous pursuit such as this, but blind to the culture who they so try to impersonate during these ‘weekend retreats’ but also to their other fellow Americans,, ten thousand dollars could have saved someone’s home.

    Native American religion and way of life has been comprimised.
    And this flollowing is a statement made by Arizona’s Senators.
    Too bad this type of law only applies to our arts and crafts and not to our way of life!!!
    Sept 23, 2008 The U.S. Senate (John McCain is the sponsor of addtional bill) unanimously passed S. 1255, The Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act, which strengthens the investigative and enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. The bill was authored by Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). It passed Sept. 23. “Native American arts and crafts are the only art indigenous to America,” Senator Kyl said when he first introduced the bill.
    “In authentic reproductions and mass-produced knockoffs undercut sales of genuine articles and undermine traditional artisans’ techniques. It would be a tremendous loss to the entire country’s cultural heritage to lose these traditions.”

    IT WOULD BE A TREMENDOUS LOSS TO THE ENTIRE COUNTRY’S CULTURAL HERTIAGE TO LOSE THESE TRADTIONS. HE SAID

  6. Linda (Chippewa in Michigan)

    GUILTY
    There are no ‘victims’ here. People such as this are no different than those who traffic phony Indian Arts and Crafts with one major exception. First of all these people who attend these types of ‘retreats’ are those who intend to gain certification of sorts by acquiring proof of attendance so that they can open up their own profitable undertakings– see for yourself, do they get a certificate of completion? All anyone has to do is check for themselves. It is all for one purpose, greed, but the major difference between those who commit the offense of breaking federal law by trafficking phony Indian Arts and Crafts and these spiritual phonies is that is not a federal offense, to put it in trendy terms, this religious sacrilege is EXTREMELY BAD Karma, sure these kinds of people have big name corporations and fortune five hundred celebrities endorse their new ‘pay for religion products’, but do they really understand what they are actually doing? Our economy is bad people are losing their homes people can’t afford heath care,, who is going to profit? At what cost? Do they really believe in what they are selling or care about any sort of spiritual, religious & moral consequence to their actions by taking the very sacred way of life of a people healing from other atrocities already committed upon them, of couse not, humanity is not ignorant of this, neither can they claim to be especially if they claim to have had a Native American train them they wouldn’t have required rediculous exorbitant amounts of money. Now the religion is up for profit? Sweat lodge anyone?? But the difference is no one can buy Indian spirituality all they can do is try to emulate it in whatever strange and bizarre made up ways as they go about selling it,,, will this dangerously immoral sacrilege be available at Walmarts soon too?? Or will the true Native American Spirituality be obvious to anyone anytime soon? There are very spiritually dangerous reasons Indians don’t go into sweatlodges unworthily!! It doesn’t seem our spirits are very happy with this these sorts of greedy charletons, neither should the People of The State of Arizona be!!! SNAKE OIL FOR SALE OLD INDIAN CURE DRINK KEROSINE AND DIE BUT GIVE TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS FOR IT FIRST!!!
    Linda Medley (Chippewa in Michigan)

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