When the call came into the police precinct in Panama City, Prosecutor Rafael Baloyes groaned: another group of indigenous, newly wandered across the Costa Rica-Panama border, and already in trouble. What his men discovered once they hacked their way through the jungle to the tribe’s encampment was nothing like any of them had ever seen. They found an outdoor torture chamber, within the chapel grounds of “The New Light of God” church, and a torture scenario was happening live. A dead sacrificial goat lay bleeding out on the chapel floor.
The tribe belong to the Ngobe Bugle people, a group of indigenous who date back to the time of Christopher Columbus’ visit to Costa Rica in 1502. They travel back and forth between Costa Rica and Panama, following whatever work they can find. They have their own language and customs, and the authorities often find them hard to deal with due to communication challenges – Ngobe are not always willing or able to speak Spanish. Nonetheless, three members of the tribe had stumbled into the Hospital Santiago in Panama, and had described the horror of the scenario they claimed was occurring in Bocas; they claimed seven tribe members were already dead.
The three wounded tribe members described a satanic ritual which had been abusing their fellow tribe members for four days. The abusers were also members of the Ngobe Bugle tribe, a fact which chilled the investigators as they quickly assembled a search party to go find the hostages. The prisoners had been subjugated to repeated beatings, especially with wooden cudgels, but also with machetes, clubs and even bibles. They were brutally burned during the ceremony also. During the beatings, “The New Light of God” abusers would yell at them, Repent or Die.
Baloyes described how these tribe members were captured by church members, “They searched this poor family out to hold a ritual and they massacred them, mistreated them, and killed practically the whole family.” Jose Gonzalez, whose wife and five kids were murdered, said between sobs, “I never knew my people were capable of this evil. The church twisted their minds, and they hunted my family and me down like animals.” Gonzalez received a brutal blow to his head, a “machetazo”, with a machete, rendering him unable to defend his family. “I feel impotent that I could not remove my family from their evil grasp.” They were being held by ten “pastors” of The New Light of God Church.
The scene the rescuers discovered looked like a pagan ritual in progress. There was a naked woman lying bound and beaten in the middle of a stone circle. She claimed she had been raped several times, in addition to the other abuses she suffered. There was a ritualistically killed goat lying near her. There were 13 other people tied up nearby, all with signs of torture and abuse. Rescuers felt they had stepped onto the set of a horror film.
One mile away, a freshly dug grave was discovered by rescuers with the corpses of five children, a pregnant woman, and a 17- year old teen girl. They were also members of the Ngobe Bugle tribe. Gonzalez says they were all his family members.
Nine men have been arrested for these murders, and placed in Preventive Detention until trial. When asked why they slaughtered the family, they responded, “God ordered it to remove the devil from them.”
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