Eight people have been arrested for allegedly killing two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman in ritual sacrifices by the cult of La Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, Mexican prosecutors said.
Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for Sonora state prosecutors, said the victims’ blood was poured around an altar to the saint, which is depicted as a skeleton holding a scythe and clothed in flowing robes.
The grisly slayings recalled the notorious “narco-satanicos” killings of the 1980s, when 15 bodies, many of them with signs of ritual sacrifice, were unearthed at a ranch outside the border city of Matamoros.
Mr Larrinaga said the first of the three victims was apparently killed in 2009, the second in 2010 and the latest earlier this month. Investigations indicate their veins were sliced open and their blood was poured around an altar to the saint, he said.
“The ritual was held at nighttime, the lit candles,” Larrinaga said. “They sliced open the victims’ veins and, while they were still alive, they waited for them to bleed to death and collected the blood in a container.”
Authorities began investigating after the last victim, 10-year-old Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez, was reported missing March 6.
Mr Larrinaga said the arrests were made after tests by forensic experts on Thursday found blood traces spread over 30 square metres around the altar.
Those arrested included Martin Barron Lopez, 48, the “priest” of the cult, who allegedly was responsible for killing the victims, and his wife, Silvia Meraz Moreno, who allegedly spread the blood around the altar.
The other suspects, many of them relatives, included people ranging from a 15-year-old girl to a 44-year-old woman.
While Saint Death has become the focus of a cult among drug traffickers and criminals in Mexico in recent years, there have been no confirmed cases of human sacrifices in Mexico to the saint, who is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Worshippers usually offer candy, cigarettes and incense to the skeleton statue.
The “narco-satanicos” killings of the 1980s were committed by a cult of drug traffickers who believed that ritual sacrifices would shield them from police. Victims of the cult, many of whose members are still in prison, included Mark Kilroy, a 21-year-old student from the University of Texas.
The narco-satanicos have no connection to the Saint Death cult, which gained widespread popularity around the 2000, although the two share some similarities.