National

Sweat lodge victim was in 'top shape'

PRESCOTT, Ariz. —A 38-year-old New York woman who died after sitting in a sauna-like sweat lodge at a scenic Arizona resort was an avid surfer and hiker who was "in top shape," took self-improvement seriously and had a passion for art, a family spokesman said.

Kirby Brown of Westtown, N.Y., had no pre-existing health conditions that would have kept her from participating in an otherwise safe activity, said cousin and family spokesman Tom McFeeley. That two people died and 19 others became ill indicates that "something went horribly wrong."

"Our only thought is shock, sadness and surprise," McFeeley said. "There will be plenty of time to react to the truth of what happened here, but we believe it is pointless to be angry or to place blame or to make assumptions before we understand what occurred here."

Brown was one of two people who died Thursday evening after being overcome in a crudely built sweat lodge during a spiritual cleansing ceremony at the Angel Valley Retreat Center. Authorities on Saturday identified the other victim as 40-year-old James Shore of Milwaukee.

A man who answered the door at Shore's address in Wisconsin said he had no immediate comment.

Nineteen other people were taken to hospitals, suffering from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure or elevated body temperature. Most were soon released, but one remained in critical condition Saturday.

Autopsies on Brown and Shore were conducted Friday, but the results weren't disclosed pending additional tests.

Authorities haven't determined what caused the deaths and illnesses but ruled out carbon monoxide poisoning.

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said Saturday that his detectives were focusing on self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray and his staff as they try to determine if criminal negligence played a role. Waugh said Ray refused to speak with authorities and has since left the state. No charges have been filed.

Ray's recent postings on his Twitter account said he was "shocked and saddened" by the tragedy.

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