ATLANTA - People are leaving dead chickens and food on railroad tracks in Metro Atlanta as part of a religious practice.
Part of the religion Santeria involves animal sacrifices in which people kill birds or goats and bring their carcasses to railroad tracks.
Channel 2 Action News obtained body camera video from the Austell Police Department that shows a woman who told officers her pastor said she needed to be cleansed of evil spirits. She told officers her pastor said she should take a sacrifice to local railroad tracks. Once, she left nine packages of chicken parts, raw hamburger and other food and the bomb squad responded.
“I have been diagnosed with a very serious medical condition and it helps to keep me spiritually protected,” she said.
She also told the officers she left sacrifices on tracks in Mableton and in Powder Springs.
“Powder Springs Road, that’s where the railroad tracks run through,” she said. Norfolk Southern police are investigating her case.
Channel 2 started looking into this story after a producer saw a group of men dressed in all white leave bags on tracks in Smyrna in December.
He called police and they found two dead chickens with their heads cut off in a plastic bag. The officers called the railroad company, and it said this happens all the time.
Animals are left on tracks all the time in Hialeah, Florida, just outside Miami. Channel 2 traveled there and met Rolando Gutierrez, a former train conductor who makes YouTube videos under the username "Railroad82. “So over here, we see a decomposed chicken,” Gutierrez showed Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston.
Huddleston walked the railroad tracks Gutierrez used to work on with him.
Gutierrez pointed out dozens of Santeria sacrifices. They saw dead birds in plastic bags and coconuts used to trap evil spirits. Channel 2 spotted a goat’s skull at another set of railroad tracks in Miami.
“So, you working the rails, how many sacrifices did you see in your tenure, hundreds, thousands?” asked Huddleston. “I would say thousands, yeah,” replied Gutierrez.
Santeria, which means honor of the saints, is a religion in which animal sacrifices are part of the practice. Many Caribbean locales such as Cuba practice Santeria, but it originated in Africa.
Akintunde Sangosakin Ajale is a Nigerian priest who lives in Birmingham, Alabama.
“In sacrifice, we can use rooster, hen, pigeon, goat, snail, all kind of animal,” Ajale said. However, he said his practice does not leave sacrifices on railroad tracks. Gutierrez said many Caribbean cultures do. He said there is a specific reason to leave these sacrifices on the tracks.
“This train that just came took away all these bad spirits with it,” Gutierrez said.
Placing animal sacrifices on railroad tracks is extremely dangerous for the public and the railroad company. It could send a projectile flying and hurt someone. Norfolk Southern police also told Channel 2 it is a crime.
“It’d be a misdemeanor trespasser in the state of Georgia,” said Officer Hugh McCormack with Norfolk Southern police. "It’s more for the safety of the (pedestrians).”
Channel 2 discovered that some Santeria followers leave sacrifices in cemeteries in Miami.
“It’s just a disgrace, a disgrace that it happens here at a cemetery,” said Jessica Williams, who owns Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery.
“Chickens, pigeons, birds, all kinds of dead animals with bugs around them, smell really bad,” Williams said. She said people leave sacrifices in her cemetery nearly every day, and she has seen all kinds of things.
“I found the chicken hanging from the tree, and it was a fire down on the ground, and I tried to put the fire out first before I cut the chicken down with a machete,” Williams said.
She said once, a few years ago, she caught people doing a ritual with a chick and a pigeon on top of a vault.
“They had it on top of the grave with a candle, and they were getting ready to go in it to get the bones, and I stopped them,” Williams said.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a Santeria church in Florida to make animal sacrifices in 1993.
Williams told Channel 2 that when she called the police on those trying to steal human bones, the officers would only write a report.
“They said that they can’t really do anything about it because it’s a religion and I have to really actually catch them in action,” Williams said.
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