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News Briefing

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Trans woman dies after NJ voodoo ritual

A transgender woman died in Camden County, N. J., last week after taking part in a voodoo ritual.

Police are still unsure what caused the death of Lucille Hamilton, 21, a Little Rock, Ark., resident who was staying at a house in Sicklerville, Gloucester Township, for a weekend baptism-like ceremony led by the owner of the home, Hector Salva, who bills himself as a Haitian voodoo priest.

Jason Laughlin, spokesperson for the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, said individuals in the home called 911 around 11 p.m. July 11 to report that Hamilton was “unresponsive.” Laughlin said there were eight other individuals in the house at the time, including Salva and several children, and that some of the people attempted to perform CPR on Hamilton before rescue personnel arrived. At least one of the visitors staying in the home for the ceremony traveled from as far away as the Netherlands.

All those who were in the home at the time were taken to Virtua Hospital in Berlin as a procedural matter, Laughlin said. The New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services has been notified that children were present in the home.

An autopsy was performed July 12 and investigators are awaiting results of a toxicology report, which could take several weeks to complete. Laughlin said investigators didn’t know if Hamilton’s death was connected in any way to the ritual.

“It’s definitely part of the investigation, but we’re unsure right now if there is a relationship between the ritual and her death,” he said.

The ritual, lave tet, which literally means “washing of the head,” is a three-day voodoo sacrament meant to signify the cleansing and purification of one’s mind and the removal of negative spirits. It is considered the first step for initiation into the religion.

During the ceremony, subjects have their heads washed in an herbal mix and then must lie wrapped in a white cloth on a mat and remain in the peristyle, or temple, for the remainder of the day. Lave-tet ceremonies occasionally also involve animal sacrifices and the pouring of herbal mixtures into small cuts made on the arms of the participants. Investigators found several dead chickens around the house.

Hamilton paid more than $600 to take part in the ritual.

Laughlin said it was too soon to know if any charges would be filed in the case.

“At this time we’re not calling this a suspicious death, but rather a sudden death,” he said. “We want to know how she died, and the field is wide open right now. We’re trying to find out exactly what happened and whether anything illegal took place.”

Company to offer free phones

TracFone Wireless Inc., the nation’s largest pre-paid cell-phone provider, has launched a new initiative that will provide free phone service for low-income area residents.

The company’s SafeLink Wireless — launched last month in Philadelphia, Chester, Montgomery and Northampton counties — is funded through the federal Lifeline program, which seeks to ensure low-income Americans have access to phone service.

SafeLink will provide eligible residents with a free cell phone, which will have 42 minutes of air time each month and include voicemail, text messaging, call waiting, caller ID and international calling, for up to one year.

Jose Fuentes, director of government relations for TracFone, said more than 300,000 households in the area would qualify for the program, which he said provides them “the opportunity to have the same access and privileges many individuals take for granted when it come to using a cell phone.”

For more information, visit www.safelink.com or call (800) 723-3546.

City to encourage peaceful weekend

The Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission and an assortment of local organizations and city agencies will present the sixth-annual Weekend of Peace, intended to encourage residents to become active members of their communities and strive to curb violence in the city.

Six recreation centers throughout the city will host free Weekend of Peace activities July 31-Aug. 2 that will include sports competitions, concerts, health screenings, spoken-word performances, youth-empowerment discussions, games, prizes and food.

For more information, contact the individual recreation center or call Calvin Johnson at (215) 738-5181 or Malik Johnson at (215) 410-2859, or visit www.stopthemadness-stoptheviolence.com, www.CandC.org or www.TheCoalitionInc.org.

Forum addresses men’s health

Gay and bisexual men of color interested in learning more about health issues facing the community are invited to the COLOURS Organization Inc.’s next town-hall meeting, 6 p.m. July 27 at the group’s headquarters, 112 N. Broad St., in the first-floor conference room.

“Men’s Edition: Ask the Doctor” will feature an open discussion about different mental and sexual-health topics particular to men of color.

For more information, call Lawrence Frazier at (215) 496-0330.

Grocer to give back to LGBT cause

Organic grocer Whole Foods, 929 South St., has selected local LGBT grantmaking organization Delaware Valley Legacy Fund as the beneficiary of a Community Giving Day.

On Sept. 23, Whole Foods will donate 5 percent of all of its income to DVLF, which Perry Monastero, DVLF executive director, expects to be about $4,000. Monastero said the organization is still finalizing plans with the store, but the event may include music or dance performances and will allow local LGBT community members to serve as guest baggers and greeters.

“This is a great opportunity to raise awareness not only of DVLF but also of our partner organizations, and can help us to find some new allies,” Monastero said.

Comic company seeks LGBT artists

LGBT comic company Prism Comics is calling for submissions to its fifth annual Queer Press Grant, which will help fund the creation of an LGBT-related comic work.

Interested artists must submit a proposal detailing their ideas for the project and explaining why it would be relevant to LGBT readers; a business and financial plan; a résumé; and any work that has been completed for the project. All materials should be e-mailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Oct. 1.

The grant should amount to at least $2,000.

For a complete list of guidelines, visit www.prismcomics.org/grant.

— Jen Colletta


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