STAMFORD, Conn. – The body of a child ripped from her grave in Connecticut and found floating in the Passaic River may have been stolen for use in a ritual by practitioners of an obscure religion who prized the “miracle” girl.
“We’re seeing this as a ritualistic type of theft of the body,” said Capt. Richard Conklin of the Stamford Police Department.
Imani was born in 2004 with semilobar holoprosencephaly, a rare condition that kept her brain from fully developing. She wasn’t expected to live; the condition often causes babies to die before birth or shortly after.
Yet she survived two and a half years. Doctors hailed her as a miracle baby, and her short life was chronicled by the Stamford Advocate newspaper.
“We think that’s the hook,” Conklin said. “That the people practicing these beliefs sought that power, that mystic nature of this child.”
Conklin cited Palo Mayombe, a belief system that originated in Central Africa in which sticks and human bones and skulls are used to summon spirits. Palo Mayombe is sometimes referred to as the dark cousin of Santeria, a Caribbean blend of West African beliefs and ancient Catholicism often connected with animal sacrifices.
The Record quotes a local professor who worries that people might demonize Palo Mayombe:
Peter Savastano, a professor at Seton Hall University, cautioned that there is a tendency in Western Christian-oriented cultures to demonize African-diasporic religious traditions.
“I’m immediately suspicious that [people] are kind of demonizing of these traditions that are not easily understood by mainstream Americans,” he said.
To his credit, Record columnist Mike Kelly rejects Prof. Savastano's appeal to cultural relativism. In his column ("Who steals the body of a child?"), Kelly writes,
[I]n a nation that cherishes freedom of religion, what do we make of this? Is there a place in our diverse and open society to allow the theft of a baby's body as a form of religious expression? Or can we call this what it really is – barbaric?