Death in Desert Leads to Shadowy, Silent Yoga Retreat

Ian Thorson succumbed to dehydration in Arizona

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 6, 2012 11:09 AM CDT

(Newser) – How Ian Thorson died isn't really up for debate: exposure and dehydration. Rescuers found his body in the Arizona desert in April next to that of his delirious wife and a container with but an inch of brown water in it. What came before the 38-year-old's death is much more mysterious, reports the New York Times. Writer Fernanda Santos has managed to piece together the story of a couple who were kicked out of "Diamond Mountain University," a Buddhist retreat whose 39 original attendees vowed to meditate for three years, three months, and three days—in silence.

In interviews with Thorson's mother (who 10 years ago tried to stage an intervention to break her son away from Michael Roach, the man who runs Diamond Mountain) and former members, Santos digs up the following:

  • Many have accused Roach, who studied at Princeton and once ran a highly profitable diamond business, of running a cult.
  • Thorson married Christie McNally in October 2010—but McNally had been secretly married to Roach earlier, a relationship that they said was celibate, but one that violated his monastic vows.
  • Thorson and McNally spent 13 months at Diamond Mountain, where participants could communicate using only pen and paper, before leaving.
  • Days before leaving, McNally reportedly stabbed Thorson three times, using a knife that just so happened to be a wedding present, after he allegedly became violent. In a letter posted online she later called it an accident that occurred during a martial arts lesson. But the two were given five days to go.
  • They apparently left right away, and in her letter McNally says they decided to "go camping in the cow-herding land."
  • The retreat won't conclude until April 3, 2014.
Click for Santos' full story.

The Arizona desert.
The Arizona desert.   (?diamondmountain)
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