SAN ANTONIO- A symbol that's become very popular with members of the drug cartels in Mexico literally translates to "saint death." Some people have even been killed in ritual sacrifices for Santa Muerte and now federal agents are finding altars dedicated to the figure here in the San Antonio area.
Catholic bishops in Mexico have denounced Santa Muerte but some drug criminals believe she has the power to help with even the most unusual requests. She's not a real saint recognized by the Catholic church but believers say her powers are real.
"I respect her. I have had people come back and say, 'I nearly got caught but I rubbed the Santa Muerte and they let me go. They didn't check my truck. They didn't do anything,'" spiritual adviser Juan Garza said.
In his southside Botanica Eloise store, the Santisima is one of his most popular sellers, even if the buyers have less than saintly intentions.
"They don't hide [their intentions] from me, okay? I'm not here to break the law or make the law or nothing, but if you ask me for help with this, I'm going to do my best to help you," he said.
Believers say she can provide protection from law enforcement and help smugglers cross the border. Officers say they often find altars dedicated to her image while executing search warrants.
"Sometimes we find petitions, little notes written by the people occupying the home. A lot of time they're petitions or prayers to protect them from the seizures of drugs," said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Mauricio Fernandez.
It's becoming so common, officers are studying about Santa Muerte so they can be kept safe and aware.
"Especially of the violator, who may feel he has these super powers or in fact cannot be arrested by law enforcement, and that is when we become really concerned about what they may try to do," Fernandez said.
However, Garza is quick to point out that not everyone who believes in Santa Muerte is a criminal or purchases a statue for illicit purposes. He says each color represents something different, like red symbolizes love and blue symbolizes tranquility. He also said some people pray to her for help in their marriage or for help with money.