Two men were arrested for digging up the remains of military veterans from a Florida cemetery and using the recovered remains in a pagan religious ceremony, police said.
Brian Montalvo Tolentino, 43, and Juan Burgos Lopez, 39, used a crowbar to smash open four graves in Mount Dora, Florida in early December, the Lake County, Florida sheriff’s office said in a press release. Using DNA left on a cigar discarded at the cemetery, police identified Tolentino who told investigators that Lopez was his accomplice.
“Tolentino stated that Lopez used a crowbar to open the vaults and then removed the heads of the deceased,” the sheriff’s office said. “He stated they removed four heads from the four graves and then returned to Lopez’s residence. He stated the heads were taken for religious practices.”
— Bob Hazen WESH (@HazenWESH) December 7, 2020
Police obtained a search warrant for Lopez’s home last week and found a religious shrine comprised of several remains, according to police. Detectives found six skulls, two of which were obtained by someone else, a hand, partial arm and other large bones.
Police arrested and charged Tolentino and Lopez each with four counts of disturbing the contents of a grave and four counts of abuse of a dead human body, according to the press release.
On Dec. 6, police reported that four graves had been disturbed and suspected the reason was for a “ritualistic activity,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“Detectives and crime scene investigators responded to the scene and began the investigation and found evidence that suggests that this incident is very likely tied to some form of ritualistic activity,” Lake County Sheriff spokesperson Lt. John Herrell said, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The men reportedly used the remains to practice an ancient religion practiced by slaves brought to Cuba from Africa called Palo Mayombe, according to Tampa Bay Times. They allegedly dug up military veterans’ remains because they believed the spirit of a hero is stronger than that of a regular person.
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