They call her "La Santa Muerte," the Saint of Death, whose followers have multiplied rapidly over the last decade as violence has gripped Mexico and spilled across the border, according to missionaries who have witnessed the death cult's growing influence.
From Mexico City to border towns such as Laredo, and lately in large American cities such as Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago, her cloaked, skeletal icon, usually depicted gripping the Grim Reaper's scythe, is often seen hanging from the windows, entryways and sometimes on the tattoos of her disciples.
Her appeal lies in basic human desires -- especially those of the poor and drug runners who entreat her for protection and vengeance.
"Healing, money, protection, or they want power," said Orpha Ortega, who along with her husband William serves as a Southern Baptist missionary in Mexico City.
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