Update on Sedona Sweat Lodge Incident

13 October 2009  
Further information on the Sedona Sweat Lodge incident, including parts 2 and 3 of the press conference.
Lt. David Rhodes answers questions from the press while Sheriff Waugh watches on.

On September 27, James A. Ray wrote in his Twitter account, "Perfection is all there is. God can't be held responsible for pain & misery created by our own ignorance of universal laws and principes.[sic]"

Of course, when he wrote that, he had no idea that two people would, in fact, die as a result of their presence in the sweat lodge, which was a component of their participation in the Spiritual Warrior program led by Ray in Sedona. Those two victims have been identified as 40-year-old James Shore of Milwaukee, WI, and 38-year-old Kirby Brown of Westtown, NY. In addition to these two victims, approximately 20 other people were transported to various hospitals in northern Arizona. Most have been released, but

Currently, four people are still hospitalized at Flagstaff Regional Medical Center; as of today, it is reported that there is one in "critical" condition, two in "fair" condition and one in "good" condition.

According to Lt. David Rhodes, of the Criminal Investigative Bureau of Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, who Sheriff Steve Waugh introduced as the primary investigator in this case, between 50-65 people were inside the sweat lodge-like structure, which he described as "very temporary".

As reported in the article, "Sheriff Waugh Holds Press Conference on Sedona Sweat Lodge Incident" the dimensions of that structure were approximately 74 feet in circumference, or 415 square feet. The outer edge was 30 inches high, and the maximum height in the center was 53 inches, making it impossible for an adult to stand up fully. Covered in blankets and tarps, the only ventilation in the sweat lodge was the single entrance the participants used to get in and out. Heated lava rocks, the size of cantaloupes, were placed inside with pieces of sandalwood, and water was poured over to create steam. It has not been determined how long each of the participants stayed inside, although estimates range from one - two hours. Neither is it known exactly how hot the temperature became.

Lt. Rhodes discussed the scope of the investigation, stating, "Everyone who was on the site is part of the investigation. We do not know if there was any criminal culpability at all, we are seeking information from everybody who was there to attempt to determine what happened."

Here is Lt. Rhodes as he answers questions:

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Currently termed a "death investigation", Rhodes explained that the Sheriff's office is, "...conducting this investigation with the idea that when it’s completed we will present it over to the Yavapai County Attorney’s offie to determine if charges will be filed. Again there are no criminal charges pending, and we do not know at this point if there ever will be."

Rhodes said that the participants have been "very forthcoming with information" in their interviews, with the exception of Ray. "He did not make any statements to us on the night of the event." When asked if Ray should be required to make a statement, Rhodes responded, "Well, in any type of criminal investigation, or potential criminal investigation, the 5th Amendment to the Constitution obviously guarantees that everybody has the right to remain silent. I do not know why he chose not to speak with us, he just did not."

Rhodes said that even Ray's staff members have been "somewhat" cooperative in their statements, and that they would be contacted again for further information.

Ray is evidently not speaking publicly to anyone at all. On his blog, he wrote:

I am shocked and saddened by the tragedy that occurred at Spiritual Warrior in Sedona, Arizona, Thursday evening. I wish to express my deepest heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives as well as offer my prayers for a speedy recovery for those who were taken ill. Because there are so many more questions than answers at this time I believe it inappropriate to comment further until we know more.

Out of respect for the deceased and their loved ones and for those who have taken ill and for whose speedy recovery we pray, we will not be replying to individual postings. Instead, we thank you for writing, and we hope you will share in our continued wishes of support, strength and comfort to all those impacted by this tragedy.

We also want everyone to know that our friend, Lisa Rondan, has been at the hospital monitoring the condition of Liz Neuman, Stephen Ray, Tess Wong and Sidney Spencer. Our love and warm affection is with all who mourn and with all of you in this time of grief, sadness and challenge.

James Arthur Ray, President/CEO James Ray International, Inc.*

This was not the first such Spiritual Warrior retreat, Ray had been offering them back as far as 1993, according to Rhodes. In fact, on Ray's website, a Spiritual Warrior event is already scheduled for September 18 -23, 2010, at a cost of $9695.

Click here to view Sheriff Waugh and Lt. Rhodes as they finish the press conference:

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"If you're not uncomfortable you're going after the wrong intention. Get on the edge. Create or disintegrate. Grow or die. It's a law." James A. Ray, September 30, 2009, on his Twitter account.

*Editor's note: This quote was taken from Ray's website last night. Evidently he has changed the wording since he first put it up. The wording quoted here is the wording he had online as of about 1 am, Monday October 12.

Lynne LaMaster