You Mean There Isn’t A Satanic Voodoo-Santeria Pagan Cult?

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A few days ago I mentioned a story that I had some major problems with. It concerned a woman, Michelle Rene Wood, who was badly beaten and rushed to the hospital.

“Michelle Rene Wood, 42, of Palm Coast was found covered in blood with both eyes swollen shut early Monday, according to a St. Johns County sheriff’s report. A rope was tied around her right wrist and a bungee cord around her left ankle, the report states.”

Wood claimed that her injuries were from members of a “Santeria Voodoo” cult she had been affiliated with. This alleged cult, who she claims robbed and beat her, participated in Satanic rites and needed her for an important Autumn Equinox ritual.

“[Wood] said Sunday’s abduction and beating were not the first she had suffered in recent days as a result of her leaving the group last year to become a Christian … She was later taken to another home, believed to be in Flagler Estates, where her captors took drugs and performed a devil-worship ritual … Wood also told investigators the men and a petite blonde woman named “Sky” took her to an open field near a home where a bonfire was burning. They were “preparing” for the autumnal equinox, she said. “They needed me to help call the spirits,” Wood told investigators…”

A cult that mixes Santeria, Voodoo, Satanism, Paganism, drug-using, and guns? I’ve heard of syncretism, but this is ridiculous. Apparently the local police think so too, since they have closed the case.

“Flagler County sheriff’s investigators closed the case of a Palm Coast woman who claimed to be abducted and attacked by members of a voodoo group, officials said Friday … cult experts said Wood’s story didn’t line up with known voodoo practices. And sheriff’s investigators found no evidence of organized satanic worship in the county, according to Maj. David O’Brien, Criminal Investigation Unit supervisor. In fact, O’Brien said his investigators couldn’t find “credible evidence” that a crime even occurred. Plus, Wood has a history of making similar fraudulent claims to law enforcement, the Sheriff’s Office said.”

So let’s see if I get this straight. A woman with a history of lying to the police, who (indirectly) admits to taking drugs, concocts a story about a “cult” after getting beaten up and this uncritically hits the headlines of the local newspapers and television broadcasters? You would think that a few more phone-calls would have produced the more likely scenario of a woman who has been attending church in an attempt to get clean, falls off the wagon, runs afoul of a gang, and gets robbed and beaten. A story that is just as tragic, but one that avoids smearing non-Christian minority faiths.

This isn’t the first time that strange things have been incorrectly blamed on members of occult, modern Pagan, or Afro-diasporic religions, and it most likely won’t be the last so long as journalists continue to act as unthinking regurgitators of press releases and police reports. Journalism isn’t just repeating what other people say, but a process of gathering information with a set of ethical standards attached. While sensationalism sells, it also creates a fearful and jaded audience who eventually numb to the constant “bleed and it leads” ethic. It is little wonder that blogs and other new media outlets have become so popular at “mainstream” journalism’s expense.