LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) James Arthur Ray, the man who led a spiritual retreat in Arizona where two people died after being overcome in a sweat lodge, broke down in tears as he said the tragedy has left him "frustrated and confused."
At a seminar outside Los Angeles, the self-help expert addressed the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee.
Authorities say Brown, Shore and more than 50 other people attending the retreat near Sedona, Ariz., were crowded into a 415-square-foot sweat lodge over two hours last Thursday Oct. 9.
Brown and Shore died, and 19 others were hurt. One remains in critical condition. Autopsy results are being withheld pending additional tests, but carbon monoxide poisoning was ruled out as a cause of the deaths and illnesses. Fire officials said the surviving victims exhibited symptoms ranging from dehydration to kidney failure.
"This is the most difficult time I've ever faced," Ray told a crowd of about 200 at a hotel in Marina del Rey Tuesday. "I don't know how to deal with it really."
An audience member asked Ray to describe what happened at the retreat, but he declined, saying only that he has hired his own investigative team and is cooperating with authorities.
"We're looking for answers," he said. "I'm as frustrated and confused as other people are."
Ray, who said he is "being tested" by the tragedy, added that he wrestled with whether to go through with Tuesday's seminar. He said it had been scheduled weeks before the Arizona retreat.
"My advisers told me, 'Don't do that. You don't know who'll show up. They're going to eat you alive,"' he told the audience. But he said it was important for him to keep his commitments.
"I'm grieving right now," said Ray. "I'm grieving for the families."
The comments followed a demand earlier Tuesday from a spokesman for Brown's family for more accountability from Ray.
Tom McFeeley, Brown's cousin and family spokesman, called on Ray to assure that the retreat's participants "were not mistreated and not put in a reckless situation."
McFeeley also said he is concerned that Ray exhibited a "godlike complex" during the event that might have kept people from opting out of activities that Ray acknowledged could cause "physical, emotional, financial or other injuries."
Ray's spokesman, Howard Bragman, declined Tuesday to address McFeeley's concerns.
Fire department reports released Tuesday show the incident wasn't the first involving a sweat lodge ceremony at the resort, the Angel Valley Retreat Center. Verde Valley Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen said his department responded to a 911 call in October 2005 about a person who was unconscious after being in a sweat lodge.
Angel Valley resort owner Amayra Hamilton confirmed that Ray was leading the sweat ceremony during the 2005 event. Ray's spokesman declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office continued to investigate last week's ceremony to determine if criminal negligence played a role in the deaths or illnesses. Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said Tuesday that authorities have not yet spoken with Ray.
No charges have been filed.
Participants paid between $9,000 and $10,000 for the retreat, and police said they were highly encouraged, but not forced, to remain inside the crudely built sweat lodge the entire two hours, authorities said.
A statement released by the family of Liz Neuman, who remains in critical condition at the Flagstaff Medical Center, said she is in a coma and doctors are working to stabilize damage to multiple organs.
Two others remained hospitalized.
Officials say the sweat lodge, built specifically for the five-day retreat, lacked the necessary building permit.
MORE ON CRIMESIDER
October 13, 2009 - Angel Valley Sweat Lodge Deaths: Owner Didn't Have Permits
October 12, 2009 - Sweat Lodge Death Investigation Turns to Self-Help Guru James Arthur Ray
October 12, 2009 - Family Says New Yorker Kirby Brown was in Great Shape before Mysterious Sweat Lodge Death
October 9, 2009 - Angel Valley Resort: Two Dead, Many Hospitalized in Sedona Sweat Lodge Illness