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Author delays events after Arizona sweat lodge deaths

One person inside the sweat lodge described a scene of confusion and horror.
One person inside the sweat lodge described a scene of confusion and horror.
  • Three people died after spending time in Arizona sweat lodge this month
  • James Ray: "I must dedicate all of my ... energies to helping bring some sort of closure"
  • He is postponing all scheduled events through end of the year
  • Law enforcement officials say homicide investigation has begun

(CNN) -- Self-help author and speaker James Arthur Ray announced Thursday that he is postponing all of his scheduled events through the end of the year after the deaths of three people in a sweat lodge session he led.

"In the days following the terrible accident, I struggled to respond in the right way," Ray wrote on his Web site Thursday. "This is the most emotionally wrenching situation I've ever faced, and it's now clear I must dedicate all of my physical and emotional energies to helping bring some sort of closure to this matter. That means helping the authorities and the families get to the bottom of what happened."

Three people died after spending time in the sweat lodge near Sedona, Arizona, on October 8. Nearly 20 others were injured.

Two were pronounced dead shortly after they arrived at a hospital, and a third died October 17 after being hospitalized since the incident.

Ray wrote last week on his site that he would keep going with his programs "despite considerable criticism" because his work is "too important" not to continue with it.

But in his blog Thursday, he said he now will devote all of his time to assisting authorities in their investigation.

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"For that reason, I'm postponing all the events I had planned for the remainder of 2009. These events will be rescheduled as soon as possible in 2010 -- once the essential work that must be done on the Sedona tragedy has been completed," Ray wrote.

A homicide investigation has begun, law enforcement officials have said.

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said October 15 that the sweat lodge was meant to be a "spiritual awakening" exercise for participants in Ray's Spiritual Warrior program.

According to a description of the program on Ray's Web site, participants would learn to "carve out [their] own destiny and quickly develop the strength and determination to live it" as they experienced "a new technologically enhanced form of meditation that creates new neurological pathways, allowing you to experience powerful whole-brain thinking (this one's gonna knock your socks off)."

Each participant paid $9,695 to attend the program at the Angel Valley Retreat Center.

One of them was Beverly Bunn of Texas, who described a scene of horror and confusion inside the sweat lodge, a dome-like structure covered with tarps and blankets. Hot rocks and water inside created steam.

"Everybody was throwing up everywhere. There was spitting going on. ... People were so disoriented, they were screaming at one point," she said.

"I saw all of these people lying around and mucus coming out of their nose and mouth and eyes rolled back in their heads."

Bunn said the sauna-like conditions sickened several of the people inside.

"They were yelling and yelling, yelling at this man because he was so disoriented that he actually started crawling into the pit with the hot rocks."

Native Americans used sweat lodges in spiritual and physical purification ceremonies.

Ray is widely known for programs that claim to teach people how to create wealth from all aspects of their lives: financially, mentally, physically and spiritually. He has appeared on various national programs in the United States, including CNN's "Larry King Live."