Twelve people have died in a religious ritual, apparently after drinking a poisoned sacrament, and the leader of the ceremony clung to life in a coma Friday, officials said.
Authorities who went to the house Thursday night in the impoverished El Florido neighborhood of this border city found 12 bodies strewn about the living room, with five survivors. Another ritual participant later checked into a hospital.The dead included four men, seven women and a 6-year-old girl, police said.
The victims' faces were contorted in pain and had suffered a purplish discoloration of the skin, apparently caused by poisoning, the judicial police report said. Autopsy reports were expected later Friday.
Authorities in this city south of San Diego speculated the deaths were caused by an industrial alcohol, perhaps rubbing alcohol, that was poured accidentally into a fruit punch the participants shared during a religious ceremony.
"We believe we've ruled out both suicide and homicide," said Jose Nunez de Caceres, a commander of the Baja California state police.
Officers were conducting tests on the punch and a bowl of cooked chicken discovered in the house where the 12 bodies were found, said Baja California Police spokeswoman Sara Yolanda Gonzalez.
The group leader and owner of the home, Federico Padres Mejia, 62, was in a coma, hospital officials said.
In a hospital interview, survivor Alfredo Osuna Hernandez said the people gathered round a cardboard Virgin Mary and drank the punch as a sacrament. Several hours later, people began falling ill, Hernandez said.