Sur­vivor re­counts cult rite that killed 7

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Juan Zamorano

SAN­TI­AGO, PANAMA >> A sur­vivor of the cult cer­e­mony that killed her daugh­ter and six other peo­ple in a re­mote vil­lage in Panama says she was or­dered to close her eyes, was beaten and knocked un­con­scious dur­ing the rit­ual.

The ac­count Mon­day by Dina Blanco sug­gests the 14 sur­viv­ing par­tic­i­pants were help­less, bound, un­con­scious or sight­less much of the time. So the truth about what hap­pened in the bizarre cer­e­mony may only come out at the tri­als of the nine vil­lagers charged with killing their neigh­bors in the ham­let of El Ter­rón last week.

Blanco said from her hos­pi­tal bed in the near­est city, San­ti­ago, that she had gone to pre­vi­ous prayer meet­ings at the im­pro­vised church in a long wooden shed be­fore. But this time, the tone had changed, and she didn’t go will­ingly.

The cult, which had op­er­ated in the vil­lage for about three months, changed af­ter a mem­ber had a vi­sion, telling the lay preach­ers they had been “an­nointed” to ex­ter­mi­nate un­be­liev­ers.

Blanco, 24, said a neigh­bor, Olivia, came to call her to the meet­ing of “the New Light of God” sect on Jan. 13, say­ing she would have to come “whether you like it or not.”

So she went — along with her 9-year-old daugh­ter, who had epilepsy, her 15-year-old son and her fa­ther. Her fa­ther and her son man­aged to es­cape; Blanco and her daugh­ter, Inés, were not so lucky.

When they ar­rived, they were told not to open their eyes, and to grab each oth­ers’ hands and pray; the wor­shipers felt they were phys­i­cally in the pres­ence of the Lord.

“I felt some­thing hit my head, and then I don’t what hap­pened to me. I dropped to my knees,” said the short, dark-haired Blanco.

Au­thor­i­ties say cult mem­bers used Bi­bles, cud­gels and ma­chetes to hit the con­gre­gants. Blanco still bears a broad bruise across her fore­head from what­ever hit her.

“When I came to, they kept telling me not to open my eyes,” she re­called. “I heard drums, an ac­cor­dion, screams, cry­ing. I was tied up.”

Au­thor­i­ties say some of the con­gre­gants had been forced to strip, and walk across glow­ing em­bers.

But the worst was yet to come. Late that night or in the early morn­ing hours of the 14th, a sect mem­ber ap­proached and told her that her daugh­ter Inés had died.

“The birds of the fields shall dis­pose of her body,”the voice said.

In fact, Inés, like Blanco’s preg­nant neigh­bor and five of her chil­dren, had been mur­dered dur­ing the rit­ual — by some ac­counts, de­cap­i­tated — and their naked bod­ies slung into ham­mocks and dumped in a freshly-dug com­mon grave in the vil­lage ceme­tery.

AR­NULFO FRANCO — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Res­i­dents gather at a school in the jun­gle com­mu­nity of El Ter­ron, Panama, on Fri­day.

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