A pregnant woman and five of her children are among seven people who have been killed in a suspected exorcism in Panama.
The victims, who were from an indigenous community, were rounded up by 10 lay preachers before being tortured, beaten, burned and hacked with machetes to make them “repent for their sins”.
Police managed to free 14 others, also from the Ngabe Bugle indigenous group, who had been tied up and beaten with wooden clubs and Bibles.
Officers were alerted to what was happening by three villagers who managed to escape and travel to a hospital for treatment.
They discovered an improvised church which belonged to a little-known religious sect called The New Light Of God – and a local official said the police were shocked by what they saw.
Prosecutor Rafael Baloyes said: “They 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.”
Investigators found a naked woman inside the building, along with machetes, knives and a goat that had been ritually sacrificed.
Two pregnant women and several children were injured, and the area is so remote that helicopters were used to take them to hospital for treatment.
A mile away from the building, a freshly dug grave with the bodies of six children and one adult was found. The youngest victim was a year old.
One of the suspects in the killing is the children’s grandfather.
“They searched this family out to hold a ritual and they massacred them, mistreated them, killed practically the whole family,” Mr Baloyes said.
Local leaders have described the sect as “satanic” and called for it to be eradicated immediately.
It is believed The New Light Of God movement had only been operating in the area for about three months – and on Saturday, one of the sect’s members claimed to have received a message from God telling him that everyone must repent or die.
The Ngabe Bugle are Panama’s largest indigenous group and suffer from high rates of poverty and illiteracy.
Ten sect members have been arrested on suspicion of being responsible for the killings.