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Human sacrifice? Poor Mexican family suspected in the murders of two young boys, woman

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 2nd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A horrific murder scene has authorities suspecting a destitute Mexican family of committing human sacrifices to Santa Muerte, or "Saint Death." Authorities say the throats and the wrists of the victims - two 10-year-old boys and a woman in her fifties were cut with knives and axes, their blood spread on a Santa Muerte altar. Their bodies were discovered buried near the shacks where the alleged cult members lived.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The family suspected in the murders were ones the government and churches help with free food, used clothes and farm animals. The men were trash pickers and some of the women had been suspected of prostitution.

Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, is a figure revered by outlaws but whose popularity is growing across Mexico and among Hispanics in the United States.

The suspected cultists lived in shacks outside a small town near the U.S. border. The killings have rocked the copper mining village of Nacozari, near the edge of the Sierra Madre. The incident may be the first ritual sacrifices linked to the popular saint that has long been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

"We never knew they were part of a Santa Muerte cult," Jorge Sanchez Castillo, a 54-year-old hotel owner says. He owns a corn field next to the house of the woman believed to lead the group. "This has been tragic for all of us."

The town of Nacozari has escaped the grisly violence of drug cartels fighting for lucrative corridors along the U.S.-Mexico border. "It was a peaceful town. We'd never seen such violence," Police Chief Jose Miguel Espinoza says.

A 10-year-old boy went missing in July 2010. His mother and her boyfriend told police that acquaintances had seen him begging in the streets of nearby Agua Prieta across the border from Douglas, Arizona, and that they would go find him, said Espinoza.

"We had no reason to suspect it was a homicide," he said.

A second 10-year-old boy went missing in early March, prompting Sonora State's missing persons unit to send agents to Nacozari. That boy's mother and her boyfriend reported it to state authorities, who discovered weeks later that the two boys knew people in common.

Martin Rios and Jesus Martinez, the missing boys would often visit Meraz's home in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of the town of 11,500.

Police suspected the house was being used for prostitution after seeing different men from out of town visiting, but never gathered enough evidence to arrest anyone.

Agents on Wednesday unearthed the body of Jesus Martinez buried in the dirt floor in the bedroom of one of the Meraz daughters. They then began arresting family members, who led them to what agents believe are the remains of the other boy, as well as the grave of 55-year-old Cleotilde Romero, a close friend of Meraz who disappeared in 2009.

Forty-four-year-old Meraz, who police suspect was the cult leader, and seven people related to her, were detained pending further investigation, including her boyfriend Eduardo Sanchez, father, son, three daughters and a daughter-in-law. No formal charges have been filed pending further investigation.

"They thought that by offering the blood, they would be protected for some time," Larrinaga said. "According to them, Santa Muerte was going to tell them where the money was. They all identify themselves as fanatic followers of Santa Muerte."

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