Former James Ray employee Melinda Martin spoke to Nightline.

I guess my earlier post of the Onion story on the nation being “about due” for a cult suicide was a little too close to the truth for comfort. Last night on ABC’s Nightline, a former James Ray employee recounted her experiences outside the Sedona-area sweat lodge where three people died and 19 were injured, including a Southern Arizona woman who suffered organ failure.

When paramedics arrived at the Angel Valley Retreat Center, one of them asked “what happened here? is this a mass suicide?” according to former James Ray International employee Melinda Martin. Martin revealed some interesting details about Ray and his seminars:

• She led a “breath work” exercise in the days before the sweat lodge in which people essentially hyperventilated for two hours, putting them in an “altered state.”

• Problems cropped up in the sweat lodge after the first 15 minutes, but some participants felt compelled to return inside even though they were suffering.

• Other employees told Martin to stop looking so worried because they thought she would scare people.

• As others have said, Ray himself saw the problems occurring but did nothing to help.

Martin and former Ray follower Andy Grant also spoke up about the death of Colleen Conaway while participating in a Ray seminar a couple of months earlier. Conaway killed herself by jumping from a third-story balcony at a San Diego mall while participating in an exercise of pretending to be homeless. This is the same exercise that Tucsonan Alexcis Reynolds described participating in at a Ray seminar in San Diego.

When Martin brought up the missing woman to Ray herself, at the seminar the next day, he said “We have found her, she is fine, and she’s decided not to return to the event,” Martin said. The words sound chilling when you consider the fact, reported by this blogger, that Ray employees called Conaway’s cell phone while she was missing, hours after they had taken her cell phone from her as part of the exercise, and left messages asking where she was. Why? Who knows.

The only question I’m left with is why is Martin speaking up now? The story mentions that James Ray International stopped paying her, and you’re left to wonder if that’s the reason why she spoke up.

Columnist

Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.