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Suspect kills man after receiving ‘spiritual message’ from Mexican folk saint, police say

A California man is behind bars for a deadly shooting that occurred early Wednesday morning at a Baton Rouge hotel.
Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 2:00 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2022 at 12:14 AM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A California man is behind bars for a deadly shooting that occurred early Wednesday morning at a Baton Rouge hotel. According to Baton Rouge Police Department, the suspect admitted to police that he killed the victim for ‘spiritual reasons,’ after receiving a message from Santa Muerte, a Mexican folk saint.

Investigators said two men, David Mendez, 45, of San Bernardino, Calif., and Juan Enrique Reyes Lugos, 26, of San Antonio, Mexico, got into an argument around 4 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 2 at the Sleep Inn in the 10300 block of Plaza Americana Drive. They were sharing a hotel room while in Baton Rouge working for a construction company, according to the arrest warrant.

Mendez shot Lugos multiple times during the argument, said police.

Authorities said Lugos died at the scene, and Mendez was arrested without incident when officers arrived at the hotel.

Mendez was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and charged with second-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon.

Police said the victim had called, saying somebody was trying to kill him.

When police arrived at the hotel, Mendez reportedly told them ”he is gone, I shot him and the gun is in the hamper,” according to the arrest warrant.

Police said Mendez also explained his reason for shooting the victim.

“It was due to some type of spiritual reason as to why he felt like he needed to kill the individual that he was involved with,” said BRPD spokesperson Sgt. L’Jean McKneely Jr.

“He had met him through work. He didn’t know him before, or prior to coming here. They met while working on a project here in Baton Rouge. And, they were all hanging out last night, and this morning he received a spiritual message that encouraged him to kill him,” said McKneely.

Police say he mentioned the words Santa Muerte, which is a Mexican folk saint, and translates in English to saint death and holy death.

“You can see if you look at her, she’s like the female grim reaper. I call her the grim reapress,” Said Andrew Chesnut, PhD, Chair of the Catholic Studies Department at VCU.

Folk saints are not recognized by the Catholic Church, but have a lot of followers across the globe.

Dr. Chesnut has been studying this topic for 13 years and even wrote a book about it called, ‘Devoted to Death, Santa Muerte The Skeleton Saint.’

“She is petitioned for all kinds of miracles, most importantly wealth, health and love. But because she’s a folk saint, and not a Catholic saint, some particularly members of organized crime, particularly cartel members specifically, so ask her to do crime against others. More specifically to take out rivals and enemies,” said Dr. Chesnut.

There are a small percentage of extremists who follow the folk saint almost like a cult.

“In this case, the Santa Muerte represents that, hat you will praise. It will protect you and your business it will guide your steps in the dark, it will help you to seek revenge. Again it comes with a cost,” said Juan J. Colomina Almiñana, PhD, a professor in the Department of World Languages at LSU.

The religion of sorts started in Mexico during the Spanish Colonial Period according to the experts.

But Santa Muerte does have a following among Mexican cartel members.

“If you are seeking for highest protection, you have to provide something in exchange. So say, if you want to save your own soul or you don’t want to die, you have to provide something extra in exchange,” said Almiñana.

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