Kirby Brown, a 38-year-old decorative painter from Los Cabos, Mexico, followed her self-help guru to a six-day retreat in Sedona, Ariz., last year, hoping for the ultimate in enlightening challenges to help her realize her dreams.
Instead, Brown died along with two others on the last day of the event, when a ceremonial sweat-lodge ritual went horribly wrong.
The leader of the ceremony, James Arthur Ray, 52, is currently awaiting trial on three counts of manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.
Meanwhile Ray, a junior college dropout with a background in telemarketing, continues to peddle his beliefs — for a price — on his website.
Ray’s case raises questions about how someone with so little formal training could attract followers who would trust him — to their deaths. And, as Ray’s past comes into focus, larger questions are bubbling up about the self-help movement and where its future may lie.
“He needs to be stopped,” said Ginny Brown, Kirby’s mother. “How many more people have to die before he is stopped?”
Ray declined repeated requests by ABC News for an interview, but his attorneys maintain his innocence. Ray never forced anyone to enter or stay in the sweat lodge, they argue, and he took extensive precautions to prevent problems.
His lawyers also say participants were warned in writing and in person about the dangers.
What resonated for Bivins, like many others, was James’ interpretation of “The Secret,” which practitioners say is based on a rule they call the Law of Attraction.
Simply put, “The Secret” says that one’s wishes can be fulfilled by properly wishing for them.
Ray’s adherents believed that by following him, and observing the Law of Attraction, they would grow rich. And Ray preached that message throughout his “Harmonic Wealth” and “Million Dollar Mindset” books, DVDs, and seminars.
“Once they hook into you and they realize they have a live one, they just keep coming — until they pump you dry,” said Steve Salerno, author of “Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless.”
Watch the full story Tuesday, July 6, 2010 on “Primetime: Mind Games” at 10 p.m. ET