TEN members of a Christian sect known as The New Light of God were arrested this week after seven members of the Ngabé Buglé indigenous group – mostly children – were killed in a religious ritual by about ten lay preachers.
They had been tortured, beaten with Bibles and wooden cudgels, burned and hacked with machetes to make them ‘repent their sins.’
According to the Guardian, 14 members of the Ngabé Buglé – held captive by the preachers – were freed by investigators who came to a remote improvised church at a ranch near the Caribbean coast on Tuesday.
The authorities had been alerted by three villagers who escaped and made their way to a local hospital for treatment earlier.
On Thursday, local prosecutor Rafael Baloyes, above, described the chilling scene that investigators found when entered the church.
They [the missionaries] were performing a ritual inside the structure. In that ritual, there were people being held against their will, being mistreated. All of these rites were aimed at killing them, if they did not repent their sins. There was a naked person, a woman inside the building, where investigators found machetes, knives and a ritually sacrificed goat.
The rites had been going on since Saturday, and had already resulted in deaths.
About a mile (2km) away from the church building, authorities found a freshly dug grave with the corpses of six children and one adult. The dead included five children as young as a year old, their pregnant mother and a 17-year-old female neighbor.
He adding that one of the suspects in the killing is the grandfather of the children who were slain.
They searched this family out to hold a ritual and they massacred them, mistreated them, killed practically the whole family.
The sect had reportedly only been operating in the area for about three months.
But things came to a head on Saturday, when one of the church members had a vision. Baloyes said:
One of them said God had given them a message. That message apparently boiled down to making everyone repent or die.
The Ngabé Buglé are Panama’s largest indigenous group, and suffer from high rates of poverty and illiteracy and their environment is under severe threat from a massive hydroelectric project.
It was not clear what beliefs or affiliations the New Light of God church has. A well-established evangelical church known as Luz del Mundo said in a press statement that it had no ties to the case.
The area is so remote that helicopters had to be used to ferry the injured out to hospitals for treatment. They included at least two pregnant women and some children.