Sweat lodge guru now linked to San Diego death - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Sweat lodge guru now linked to San Diego death

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) - A self-help guru who is linked to three sweat lodge deaths in Arizona has now been linked to a bizarre suicide at Horton Plaza. A woman on one of his retreats committed suicide at the mall, and another participant actually witnessed it.

That witness didn't realize what he was seeing until hours later, or that the woman was a part of the group. There was confusion because the woman was dressed as though she was homeless.

Colleen Conaway's family is still in shock the Minnesota native took her own life while on a three-day seminar last July here in San Diego hosted by self-help guru James Ray.

As part of the retreat - which cost thousands of dollars - participants were told to spend a few hours pretending they were homeless as a lesson in self-sufficiency.

Participant Andy Grant says during the exercise, he witnessed a woman, later identified as Colleen Conaway, leap 30 feet to her death from a third-floor balcony at Horton Plaza near where a group of children were performing.

"I looked back at the woman and she put her hands up and just fell forward," Grant said.

While shaken up, Grant did not realize Conaway was part of the James Ray group, which returned to their hotel at the end of the day, apparently not concerned Conaway was not among them.

Because she was posing as homeless, Conaway had no ID or cell phone on her.

"At the hospital, we labeled her as a Jane Doe because she had no identification," a medical examiner's spokesperson said.

In fact, seven hours elapsed before the James Ray group finally reported the 46-year-old missing, at which time investigators were able to identify her body through a driver's license picture and inform her heartbroken family back home.

"All I know is she is alone -- No ID, no means of getting a hold of us or anyone in a big city where she didn't know anyone," Colleen's mother Marian said.

A spokesman for the James Ray group said, "There is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Ray or James Ray International contributed to or could have prevented Miss Conaway's tragic sucide."

Colleen Conaway had paid $12,000 dollars on the San Diego retreat and two future James Ray events. Her family says at the very least they're entitled to a refund. Conaway's family says they have received no money back from the James Ray group.

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