PALM COAST — A woman found beaten and lying on the side of U.S. 1 in St. Johns County told deputies she ended up that way after a voodoo ceremony in Flagler County related to the autumnal equinox.
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 told investigators she was once a member of a Santeria voodoo group in Flagler County. She 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.
“They did this to me because I left the family and they want me back,” Wood told investigators.
Wood said her nightmare began with harassing phone calls from occult members late last week. When she returned home from attending church on Friday, she was abducted at gunpoint and forced to drive to a house in Bunnell where her driver’s license, iPod and cell phone were taken, she told investigators. A young male was also tied up in the home.
Wood said she had a brief encounter with a Bunnell police officer when her abductors told her to move her car from the driveway to avoid suspicion, the report states. The officer asked her some questions but Wood didn’t seek the officer’s help, fearing her abductors would follow through on threats to kill the unidentified teen tied up inside the Bunnell home.
She was later taken to another home, believed to be in Flagler Estates, where her captors took drugs and performed a devil-worship ritual, the report states. When Wood refused to participate, she said a woman attacked her with a knife. She said a teenager there helped her escape to Florida Hospital Flagler to have her injuries treated.
Wood didn’t report the Friday incident to authorities. Instead, she fled to an Ormond Beach hotel. She said she checked out of the hotel to attend church Sunday morning and planned to find another hotel room after the service.
After church, Wood said she purchased a new cell phone and contacted her sister in west Florida. While speaking to her sister, Wood’s car started to act up, the pair told detectives. Wood pulled over to check the car. Then her sister said she heard Wood say, “oh God, it’s them,” over the cell phone before the line went dead.
Wood was abducted again, the report states.
The next thing Wood remembered was waking up early Monday after having been severely beaten, her hands and feet tied. She said she used a hidden pocket knife she’d been carrying for protection since the first attack on Friday to cut herself free, then she crawled to U.S. 1 in St. Johns County, using her cell phone to call 9-1-1.
Carol Giambalvo, a cult recovery expert, told Eyewitness News the violence is highly unusual, but the fact that Bunnell police said they’ve never heard of such a religious group in the area is not a surprise.
“There are a lot of groups operating under the radar that you have no idea are occultist groups or even questionable,” Giambalvo said.
Investigators are already confirming parts of Wood’s story, including that a local church was helping her, but are waiting for her condition to improve so they can get more information.