Followers of a spiritual group built a makeshift shrine to their leader in remote southern Colorado, placing her mummified body in a sleeping bag and decorating the remains with Christmas lights, officials said Wednesday.
A man told Salida police last week that he found a body inside his home when he returned to the residence near the sparsely populated Saguache County community of Moffat, which is about 200 miles south of Denver and 250 miles north of Albuquerque, New Mexico, authorities said.
After sheriff’s deputies secured a search warrant for the house, they found a woman’s corpse in a sleeping bag, covered in Christmas lights, Capt. Ken Wilson told NBC News.
The followers of the spiritual group Love Has Won identified the body as that of their leader, 45-year-old “Mother God” Lia Carlson, according to arrest affidavits for seven people. The man who called police is a member of the group but was not charged, according to the affidavits by sheriff’s Cpl. Steven Hansen.
“It’s a cult or a commune-type situation, they come and go,” Wilson said of the seven people arrested at the home. “They [the human remains] were in a sleeping bag, [Christmas-style] lights laid on top.”
The woman had been dead for some time, but a more precise time of death wasn’t immediately clear. Other members of the group also called their deceased leader Amy Carlson, according to Wilson.
The man who called police said it was “obvious that Ms. Carlson was dead because her eyes were missing” and “that the body appeared to be mummified with Ms. Carlson’s teeth exposed through the lips,” according to Hansen.
Wilson called the scene a “shrine” built in “reverence or mourning” of their late leader.
The group believes Carlson has been reincarnated 534 times, according to its website. Followers are told they will be led into what the group calls the “fifth dimension.”
“‘Love Has Won’ is known to take people in from all over the world,” Hansen wrote. “The Saguache County Sheriff’s Office has received many complaints from family within the United States saying that the group is brainwashing people and stealing their money.”
There’s no evidence of foul play in Carlson’s death, and it is believed she died naturally in far Northern California near the Oregon line before her remains were taken to Colorado, Wilson added.
Jason Castillo, 45; John Robertson, 32; Obdulia Franco, 52; Ryan Kramer, 30; Christopher Royer, 34; Sarah Rudolph, 35; and Karin Raymond, 47, were all charged with abuse of a corpse and child abuse, according to court records.
The homeowner’s 2-year-old son and Raymond’s 13-year-old daughter were in the home, according to affidavits. The teen was put in protective custody, officials said.
Lawyers for Kramer, Raymond and Robertson declined to comment when reached by NBC News on Wednesday. Attorneys for the other four defendants did not immediately return messages seeking statements on behalf of their clients.