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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Police have begun a criminal investigation into the deaths of two people who fell ill in a sauna-like "sweat dome" at a retreat in northern Arizona, authorities said Thursday.
Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said the deaths of James Shore, 40, and Kirby Brown, 38, in a ceremony on October 8 at the retreat near Sedona were not accidental.
"Because the deaths of James Shore and Kirby Brown were not accidental, we have ... started a full criminal investigation," Waugh told a news conference Thursday.
Sixty-four people were packed into the sweat dome at the Angel Valley Retreat Centre near Sedona for more than two hours when a number of them fell ill.
Twenty-one people were taken for treatment to nearby hospitals, where two of them were pronounced dead.
The group was taking part in a five-day "Spiritual Warrior" program hosted by James Arthur Ray, a self-help guru and inspirational speaker based in California.
Waugh said people had fallen sick before at the sweat lodge, and mentioned Ray and others as a focus of the probe.
"We feel there should be some culpability on some individuals, Mr. Ray and others," he said.
A call to Ray's publicist Thursday evening was not immediately returned.
Sedona, 117 miles (188 km) north of Phoenix, is renowned for its red rocks, which some people believe have spiritual and restorative powers. The area is a popular destination for New Age retreats.
Television news images of the sweat dome showed a large, windowless circular structure, covered in a black roofing material.
The sheriff's office said participants had paid up to $9,000 to take part in the retreat involving the sweat dome, which was warmed by heated rocks brought inside.
Sweat or medicine lodges, smaller domed or oblong structures warmed with heated stones, have traditionally been used in ceremonies by some Native American cultures.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Eric Beech)