Survivor of cult ceremony that killed seven people in Panama reveals she was blindfolded and beaten with a Bible while her nine-year-old daughter was decapitated
- Dina Blanco gave her account of the cult ceremony that killed seven people
- A member said they had been ‘anointed’ to exterminate unbelievers
- Cult members used Bibles and machetes to hit the congregants, authorities say
- Some had been forced to strip, and walk across glowing embers, police revealed
- Blanco’s daughter Ines had been murdered – by some accounts, decapitated – and their naked bodies slung into hammocks and dumped in a common grave
A survivor of the cult ceremony that killed seven people in Panama recounted how she was blindfolded, beaten with a Bible and knocked unconscious while her nine-year-old daughter was decapitated.
Dina Blanco, 24, attended the meeting of ‘the New Light of God’ where a pregnant woman, five of her children and a neighbor were killed in a religious ritual in a jungle community in El Terron, Panama last Monday.
Authorities said cult members used Bibles, cudgels and machetes to hit the congregants, who were forced to strip and walk across glowing embers in the ceremony.
Blanco’s account suggests the 14 surviving participants were helpless, bound, unconscious or sightless much of the time, so the full truth about what happened in the bizarre ceremony may only come out at the trials of nine villagers charged with killing their neighbors.
She said from her hospital bed in the nearest city, Santiago, that she had gone to previous prayer meetings at the improvised church in a long wooden shed before. But this time, the tone had changed, and she didn’t go willingly.
The cult, which had operated in the village for about three months, changed after a member had a vision, telling the lay preachers they had been ‘anointed’ to exterminate unbelievers.
Dina Blanco show injuries on her back during an interview at Luis Fabrega Hospital in Santiago, Panama, Sunday, January 19, 2020
Blanco said a neighbor, Olivia, came to call her to the meeting of ‘the New Light of God’ sect on January 13, saying she would have to come ‘whether you like it or not.’
So she went – along with her nine-year-old epileptic daughter, her 15-year-old son, and her father. Her father and her son managed to escape. Blanco and her daughter, Inés, were not so lucky.
When they arrived, they were told not to open their eyes, and to grab each others’ hands and pray; the worshipers felt they were physically in the presence of the Lord.
‘I felt something hit my head, and then I don’t what happened to me. I dropped to my knees,’ said Blanco.
Authorities say cult members used Bibles, cudgels and machetes to hit the congregants. Blanco still bears a broad bruise across her forehead from whatever hit her.
Residents gather at a school in the jungle community of El Terron, Panama, Friday, January 17, 2020. A pregnant woman, five of her children and a neighbor where round on up by about 10 lay preachers at the remote hamlet on Jan. 13 and tortured, beaten, burned and hacked with machetes to make them ‘repent their sins’, authorities said
A boy of the Ngabe Bugle indigenous group sits at his home in the community of El Terron, Panama, January 17, 2020. A pregnant woman, five of her children and a neighbor where round up by about 10 lay preachers at the hamlet on Monday and tortured, beaten, burned and hacked with machetes to make them ‘repent their sins’, authorities said
‘When I came to, they kept telling me not to open my eyes,’ she recalled. ‘I heard drums, an accordion, screams, crying. I was tied up.’
Authorities say some of the congregants had been forced to strip, and walk across glowing embers.
But the worst was yet to come. Late that night or in the early morning hours of the 14th, a sect member approached and told her that her daughter Inés had died.
‘The birds of the fields shall dispose of her body,’ the voice said.
In fact, Inés, like Blanco’s pregnant neighbor and five of her children, had been murdered during the ritual – some say decapitated – and their naked bodies slung into hammocks and dumped in a freshly-dug common grave in the village cemetery.
Nine of the 10 lay preachers detained last week have been charged with murder and kidnapping.
Shoes are abandoned on a mud puddle outside the improvised temple where a pregnant woman, five of her children and a neighbor were killed in a religious ritual in a jungle community in El Terron, Panama, Friday, January 17, 2020
Bibles still lay open and musical instruments lay scattered over the weekend in the shed where the killings took place.
Indigenous leader Evangelisto Santo has said that during the ceremony, ‘People were dancing and singing and nobody paid attention because we knew that they were in the presence of God.’
But for Blanco, God was not among those present. ‘For me, it was hate that was there,’ she said.
El Terron is nestled in the jungle of the indigenous Ngabe Bugle enclave on Panama´s Caribbean coast, and it is largely cut off from the outside world.
Its 300 residents must walk hours along steep and muddy narrow roads to hail boats that can transport them along a river to other villages that have electricity, telephones, health clinics and a police presence.
In the city of Santiago, Blanco must still undergo scans to rule out internal injuries; she has bruises on her abdomen, back and hands from the beatings. But her what hurts most is in her heart.
‘She was a disabled girl,’ she said of Inés. ‘I spent a lot of time on her, I bought her pills to treat her illness that cost $3,’ a huge amount for impoverished farmers in Panama’s poorest region. ‘Now I won’t have her at home anymore,’ Blanco said. ‘That is the greatest pain that I have.’
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