A toddler's step-father today admitted sticking more than 40 needles deep into the boy's body, claiming it was a religious ritual.
Angry crowds surrounded the Brazilian police station where Roberto Carlos Magalhaes was being held and had to be pushed back by reinforcements after his confession was made public.
Meanwhile the two-year-old boy was waiting for emergency surgery to remove needles dangerously close to his heart.
Magalhaes told detectives that a woman who went into a trance would "command him to stick the needles in the boy's body," police said.
"According to his confession, he acted under influence of the woman, but it was him who stuck the needles in the boy's body," a spokesman said. He said the step-father, the woman and one other have been arrested.
Meanwhile the child, who is not being identified, was airlifted to the heart unit of a major hospital but it was not immediately clear when doctors might be able to operate.
Surgeons at a hospital in the town of Barreiras in Bahia state, where the boy had been in hospital since Sunday had decided not to try to remove any needles immediately for fear they could cause more damage.
Doctors located 42 needles in the boy, who was in stable condition in the coastal city of Salvador after the 240-mile flight to the specialist unit.
The boy's mother, a maid, took him to a hospital in the small north-eastern city of Ibotirama on December 10, saying he was complaining of pain. Three days later, after X-rays revealed many of the needles, doctors moved him to the larger hospital in the nearby city of Barreiras.
The mother told police she did not know how the needles got inside her son.
The boy's father, Gessivaldo Alves, said he believed his son could have been a victim of a black magic ritual. unspecified items that could be used for black magic.
Police are investigating to determine what sort of religious sect the stepfather and the woman belonged to.
One of the doctors who treated the child, Luiz Cesar Soltoski, said he believed that the needles were stuck into his body one by one.
"We think it could have only been by penetration because we found needles in the lung, the left leg and in different parts of the thorax. It couldn't have been by ingestion," he said.