Mexico City (CNN) -- Authorities in the northern Mexican state of Sonora have arrested eight people accused of killing two boys and one woman as human sacrifices for Santa Muerte -- the saint of death -- officials said Friday.
The victims, two of whom were age 10, were killed and their blood was offered at an altar to the saint, according to Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for state prosecutors. The accused were asking the saint, who is generally portrayed as a skeleton dressed in a long robe and carrying a scythe, for protection, he said.
Santa Muerte is a favorite among criminals and the country's drug traffickers. The saint, though not recognized by the Catholic Church, has taken off in popularity in recent years.
Details of the case were laid out in a statement from the Sonora State Investigative Police (PEI), which described the cult as a "Satanic sect."
The first of the three victims was allegedly killed in 2009; the last this month. Their bodies were found in the small mining community of Nacozari de Garcia, some 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Hermosillo, the state capital.
Many of the accused belong to the same family and one is just 15 years old, the PEI said. Authorities said they began looking into the case when one of the victim's families reported him missing.
"Nothing like this has ever happened before in the state of Sonora. And it's not something we're going to allow," said Guillermo Padres Elias, state governor.
CNNMexico.com contributed to this report.