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October 19, 2009

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Third person dies from sweat lodge ceremony

AN American homicide investigation now includes three deaths after a woman died more than a week after participating in a sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona that hospitalized nearly two dozen people.

Liz Neuman died in hospital on Saturday, Yavapai County sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said.

The 49-year-old suffered multiple organ damage during the October 8 ceremony near Sedona, a resort town that draws many in the New Age spiritual movement.

Authorities were treating all three deaths as homicides, but no charges have been filed.

Neuman was among more than 50 people crowded inside the sweat lodge run by self-help guru James Arthur Ray. An emergency call two hours after they entered the lodge reported two people not breathing.

Twenty-one people were taken to hospitals with symptoms ranging from dehydration to kidney failure. Kirby Brown, 38, and James Shore, 40, died upon arrival at a hospital. No one else remains hospitalized. Authorities haven't determined what caused the deaths.

The Reverend Meredith Ann Murray, who has completed all of Ray's retreats, said Neuman was among Ray's earliest followers and had attended dozens of his events.

Ray had rented the Angel Valley Retreat Center for his five-day "Spiritual Warrior" event that culminated in the sweat lodge ceremony. Participants paid between US$9,000 and US$10,000 to attend the retreat.

Ray declined to be interviewed by the sheriff's office on the night of the incident and Arizona authorities said he had not spoken to them.

In his first public appearance last Tuesday in Los Angeles, Ray told a crowd of about 200 that he has hired his own investigative team to determine what went wrong.


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