Investigators Probing Arizona 'Sweat Lodge' Deaths

Kirby Brown's family said she was in perfect health before the Arizona retreat.

October 11, 2009, 8:07 PM

Oct. 12, 2009— -- Investigators say it could be weeks before they determine if criminal charges will be filed in the deaths of two people who participated in a 120-degree, makeshift "sweat hut" that turned into a death trap.

The cousin of 38-year-old Kirby Brown, who died Thursday at the Sedona, Ariz., retreat, said they still know little about what happened inside the 400-square-foot tent where more than 60 people huddled around steaming fire-heated rocks hoping to cleanse their bodies.

"We don't know what happened inside that tent," Tom McFeeley told "Good Morning America" today. "We need to get those answers."

Brown and James Shore, 40, who also died, were among several guests who each paid nearly $10,000 to spend the week with James Ray, a frequent guest on "Oprah" who helped write the best-selling documentary and book, "The Secret."

But two hours into the ritual, people started collapsing and a woman called 911.

"One isn't breathing and one person is burned," the woman told the 911 dispatcher.

In addition to the deaths of Brown and Shore, a resident of Milwaukee, 19 others were injured.

Brown, a surfer and hiker, was in excellent health, according to her family.

"She was the picture of perfect health," McFeeley said. "Nobody could keep up with her physically or in any other way. She was just that type of person."

Brown had been to other retreats hosted by Ray, even bringing her parents, but none of them involved a physical component to his teachings, McFeeley said.

"We have not heard from Mr. Ray or anyone in his organization," he said. "It does surprise us, based on the type of man we thought he was."

But McFeeley was quick to point out that the Brown family does not have any ill will toward Ray, saying it's dangerous to make assumptions when they still have so many unanswered questions.

"For us to even have anger or any such emotion is pointless at this point," he said. "There will be plenty of time to react to the truth."

Funeral services, he said, are scheduled for the weekend.

Sweat Lodge Owner Left Ominous Twitter Message Before Tragedy

Ray had been conducting ceremonies at the Angel Valley Retreat center for seven years without incident. He was inside the hut when people began to collapse.

"We attempted to interview Mr. Ray at the scene," Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said. "He refused to talk to us."

Hours before the sweat lodge ceremony, Ray posted a Twitter message.

"Still in Spiritual Warrior … for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge," Ray wrote.

Following the two deaths, Ray deleted the message and wrote, "My deep heartfelt condolences to family and friends of those who lost their lives."

Now Ray faces the potential of lawsuits from the family of the those who died.

The target temperature was 120 degrees and high heat temperatures can be dangerous to the body. The body can break down cells leading to organ failure within 20 minutes of a person's core temperature rising above 104 degrees, according to Dr. Daryl Rosenbaum of the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"The only ventilation was the door," Lt. David Rhodes of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department said. "The one entrance and exit when it was open."

American Indians have practiced the tradition of sweat lodges for centuries. But they say it is dangerous when others try to imitate what they do.

"If you have bad materials, plastics, things like that cause toxic fumes," Mario BlackWolf, who owns a sweat lodge in Sedona, Ariz., said. "That's why we don't use plastic."

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