Bexar County, Texas Sheriffs received a series of bizarre reports from residents in the area of Bronze Sand Road on March 19, 2018. According to the reports, neighbors complained that a group of people were standing in an open garage wielding knives and sacrificing what appeared to be livestock.

Police arrived on the scene while the ritual was underway. Altogether there were 30 people crowded into the garage surrounded by various animals, both alive and dead. Officers on the scene reported a woman in white speaking in a language none of the responding deputies could identify and had been pouring chicken blood into some sort of container while others watched. Inside the home, more livestock including chickens, goats, and pigeons were found.

Investigators broke up the party, then placed 11 of the ceremony’s attendees under arrest for animal cruelty. The living animals found at the residence were taken in by a local animal shelter. All 11 of the suspects were charged with cruelty to animals, but the big question now is will those charges stick?

KSAT reports that a couple, Robert and Irma Talamantez who were among the 11 arrested, agreed to speak about their widely misunderstood religion, stating, “We are not cruel people.” According to the couple, they are practitioners of Santeria and the animal sacrifices that were witnessed by concerned neighbors are part of a long-standing tradition. The Talamantezs say the animals were not treated or slaughtered inhumanely.

Brought to the Carribean Islands by Nigerian slaves, the Afro-centric religion of Yoruba was heavily rejected and suppressed by the Spanish slave traders. As a way to disguise the worship of their old Gods and preserve their traditions, the slaves began melding their beliefs with the widely accepted traditions of Roman Catholicism. The new religion would become known as Santeria.

While millions around the world practice the religion, most of us are only aware of Santeria on account of the 90s hit from Sublime. As a result, the beliefs and practices of these groups come off as shocking and bizarre to outsiders.

According to KSAT’s report, the ceremony was to celebrate another member’s “sainthood,” which is described as a year-long commitment to wearing white, refraining from eating at tables, as well as other forms of self-sacrifice. The animals were sacrificed as offerings to the religion’s various gods, sometimes referred to as “Orishas.” After the animals’ throats are slit, their blood is dripped into containers representing multiple deities. The meat from the animals is then prepared and the participants sit down for a celebration feast.

Talamantez admitted that they kept the animals in cages but insisted they never suffered any abuse, further arguing that “slaughterhouses have worse conditions.”

“You know, the only one that can complain about cruelty to animals is a vegan you know, because we’re killing animals. Right? They’re the only ones that can complain, because everyone eats cows, and everybody eats hamburgers and fried chicken and pork chops and you name it. And we’re no different from anybody else,” Robert Talamantez said during his tv interview.

As part of the traditions of a Supreme Court recognized religion, it’s difficult to say whether the 11 suspects who were arrested during the religious ceremony will face the judge. Regardless of the outcome, the Talamantezes refuse to give up their religion. They say in the future they’ll simply use more caution when performing their ceremonies and next time they’ll be sure to keep their garage door closed.