Authorities in the northern Mexican state of Sonora have arrested eight people accused of killing two 10-year-old boys and one 55-year-old woman as human sacrifices for Santa Muerte — the saint of death, reported CNN. The victims were killed in order to offer their blood at an altar to the saint, according to state prosecutors spokesman José Larrinaga. The accused were asking Santa Muerte, who is generally seen as a skeleton dressed in a long robe and carrying a scythe, for protection.
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While Santa Muerte has become popular among a cult of drug traffickers and criminals in Mexico in recent years, there have been no confirmed cases of human sacrifices in the country to the saint of death, which is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, according to the Associated Press. Usual offerings left near one of the skeleton statues are candy, cigarettes and incense.
Larrinaga said the first victim was apparently killed in 2009, the second in 2010 and the latest earlier this month, reported The Telegraph.
"The ritual was held at nighttime, they lit candles," Larrinaga said to The Telegraph. "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 10-year-old Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez was reported missing on March 6 by his stepfather, reported Al Jazeera. Investigations led them to an apparent altar site in Nacozari, Sonora, about 110km south of Douglas, Arizona. Larrinaga said the arrests were made after tests by forensic experts on Thursday found blood traces spread over 30 square meters of the altar site.
Those arrested included Silvia Meraz, who Larrinaga said spread the blood around the altar, and her son Ramon Palacios, who allegedly killed the victims, according to the AP. They were identified as the leaders of the Santa Muerte cult.
"We all agreed to do it. Supposedly she was a witch or something," said Meraz to reporters, referring to the female victim. She did not respond to questions about the boys' killings.