COLORADO (NYTIMES) - Police in Colorado arrested seven people last week after finding a body, believed to be the leader of a controversial religious group, that was mummified, wrapped in Christmas lights and set up as "some type of shrine," according to an arrest affidavit.
The body was found at a home in Saguache County after police received a call about a dead woman on April 28, the affidavit said. The affidavit described her as the leader of the group Love Has Won, which former members and critics have called a cult centered on the teachings of Amy Carlson.
In the call, a man identified as Miguel Lamboy and described as a member of the group said that he had found the body on arriving at his home, where several people had been staying in his absence. He identified the dead woman as Lia Carlson, 45, the affidavit said.
Writer Be Scofield reported Amy Carlson's death on April 30, and Cole Carlson, the woman's estranged son, told the news station KDVR that his mother was also known as Lia Carlson.
The county coroner, Tom Perrin, said Wednesday that the body had not yet been identified and that the cause of death was unknown. Amy Carlson is reported to have had cancer, and on the "Dr. Phil" talk show last year, she said she was "paralyzed." "Ms. Carlson is believed to be the leader of 'Love Has Won' and goes by the name 'Mother God,'" the affidavit said. Her group has repeatedly drawn opposition from neighbors and relatives of its members, some of whom allege abusive practices.
Lamboy told the Colorado authorities that the body was clearly dead because it was missing eyes. He said he had tried to leave the house with his son, who was at the house, but that others had stopped him. The police executed a search warrant to check on the welfare of his son and to search for the dead person.
At the house, they found "mummified remains" lying on a bed and wrapped in what looked like a sleeping bag, the affidavit said. There was "glitter type makeup on around the eyes" and the body was decorated with Christmas tree lights, it added, creating the effect of "some type of shrine." Sheriff's deputies found seven adults and two children, ages 2 and 13, in the house. The adults were arrested on charges of abuse of a corpse and child abuse. "Both children were in good health and sleeping at the time the search warrant was conducted," the affidavit said.
Lamboy took custody of his son, and the other child was placed with Saguache County social services.
Lamboy also told the police that he believed the group had moved the mummified remains to his residence from California, the affidavit said. The coroner said that based on his analysis, the person had been dead for "four weeks or more." Lawyers for the people arrested could not immediately be reached for comment. At a court hearing Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Alex Raines said at least two of the defendants, Jason Castillo and John Robertson, would be charged with tampering instead of abuse of a corpse.
"A body was transported across state lines and was kept in possession of folks for several days," Raines told the court. "That's not hearsay, that's not conjecture, that's what the evidence will show down the road if we have to have a trial." On the group's Facebook page, which has since been taken down, members posted a video message Sunday that seemed to allude to Carlson's death. In the video, a man said, "Mom has ascended" and "completed her contract." He urged followers to "have full trust in Momma's divine plane" because "she planned it all out, even this part."
"Mom has ascended, her mission is over," the man said in the video. "Is the mission over? No." The group has repeatedly drawn criticism from neighbors and relatives of its members. Last year Phil McGraw, the host of "Dr. Phil," confronted Amy Carlson and two members on his show with allegations of abuse, which they denied.
In September, the group's presence in Hawaii led to protests and intervention by the police and the mayor of Maui. Three group members were "intercepted" at the airport, and 11 people traveling from Kauai were stopped on Oahu and diverted to a flight to Colorado, the city said. The Maui police said at the time that the group had decided to leave Kauai for its members' safety.
A group member told The Denver Post that month that they had traveled to Hawaii because their leader was suffering from cancer and in declining health.
The group also drew opposition in Siskiyou County in Northern California, where The Mount Shasta Herald reported that several members were living in an RV park.
In Colorado, the Saguache County Sheriff's Office had received "many complaints from families within the United States saying that the group is brainwashing people and stealing their money," the affidavit said.
The Saguache County Sheriff's Office referred questions to the affidavit and the courts. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is "assisting the investigation," said a spokesperson, Susan Medina John Hoag, a lawyer for Castillo, said at the court hearing that the group had been in the area of Crestone, Colorado, for four years.
Cassandra Foxx, the mayor of Moffat, Colorado, said the arrests were made in a subdivision outside Crestone and part of a property owners association. A woman who answered the phone for the organization, the Baca Grande Property Owners Association, declined to comment.