RIO DE JANEIRO—Brazilian influencer Pablo Marçal, a 34-year-old self-titled “messianic life coach” with over 2 million followers on Instagram, thought it a good idea to lead dozens of his devotees on a spiritual hike up the colossal Pico dos Marins mountain, one of the highest in the state of São Paulo and the site of multiple missing person cases and deaths over the years.
Forget the cold temperature, heavy rains and harsh wind warnings issued that day; never mind his followers’ lack of preparation and equipment, or Marçal’s inexperience as a hiking guide. The grueling expedition commenced in the early hours of Jan. 5—and led to an attempted homicide investigation.
It didn’t take long for some in the group to realize their ascent up the 8,000 foot-high mountain might have been unwise, given the conditions and their lack of expertise. Footage taken by the hikers and shared widely on Instagram showed heavy rains, thick fog, and gusting winds that all but destroyed the tents they had set up along the way. Of the 67 followers who embarked on the journey, roughly 30 gave up in the middle of the hike and returned to the base of the mountain, and at least a dozen more stopped climbing two kilometers short of the peak, according to a firefighter involved in the rescue who spoke with The Daily Beast.
“When we found this group that was left behind… I could see the relief on their faces. They weren't even able to go down on their own, because they were disabled and disoriented,” said Sergeant Douglas Nogueira. “They were scared and totally soaked, with their morals shaken. In this group, there were not elderly, but many clearly did not have the ideal physical condition to do the trail, especially at night and when it was raining.”
The remaining followers eventually drudged their way up to the peak of the mountain with Marçal, only for some of them to realize they couldn’t possibly make their way back down in one piece due to poor weather conditions and low visibility. The São Paulo state fire department was dispatched to rescue the group at around 3:30 am on Jan. 6 in an operation that lasted nine hours.
In the weeks that followed, millionaire life coach Pablo Marçal—who charges upwards of $5,000 for life improvement “courses” on his website that promise to “unlock” the path towards a better social and professional life—became the target of fury from Brazilian authorities, the local hiking community, and the public at large. The São Paulo District Attorney’s office deemed his actions so serious that they told The Daily Beast Marçal is currently being investigated for the crime of attempted homicide.
“There is an ongoing police investigation into alleged crimes of attempted murder, given that the participants of the event could have died of hypothermia,” a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office said in a statement to The Daily Beast. The spokesperson added that, in accordance with a new court order, Marçal has also been banned from “performing any external activity in nature without prior and express authorization by the Military Police, City Hall and Defense Civilian of the locality” under the pretext of being “a coach or in motivational programs.”
During the hike, Marçal was filmed encouraging his devotees to tread onwards, occasionally stopping to pray for better weather conditions. “I know in my heart that we can make it up there. It will be the worst experience ever… but we are just asking the Lord to divert the wind,” he was caught saying. One woman can be heard asking Marçal what her kids would do “if something happens to me.” The influencer replied: “Do you trust God?”
Marçal, who did not respond to multiple comment requests from The Daily Beast, told Brazil’s Globo news outlet: “Everybody is there saying: Pablo is irresponsible. I am irresponsible with my own life. So, each person should take care of their own.”
In a YouTube video posted a day after the incident, the life coach offered a similarly unapologetic response. “If you are a person who does not take risks, you will hardly rule or reach the top. On our climb up the mountain yesterday, we took a lot of risks,” he said. “Then someone tells me: But why take a risk? If you don't want to take a risk, stay at home and watch the stories.” He added that he never “sent anyone” up the mountain himself.
Marçal is no stranger to controversy. In 2010, the influencer was convicted of aggravated theft after helping a criminal gang embezzle money from several banks using malware. Last year, a failed attempt by the life coach to make a paraplegic woman walk was caught on camera (“Damn,” he said, after realizing his crack at a miracle had publicly flopped), earning him the ire of disability activists across Brazil.
Though everyone on the Jan. 5 hike made it out unharmed, the incident was described by firefighters involved in the rescue as “totally irresponsible” and “the worst action ever seen on Pico dos Marins.”
On social media, mountaineers and professional guides lambasted Marçal with posts about the incident that trended on Instagram in Brazil. In a video published by a popular hiking account, a group of mountaineers banded together to create a satirical video with one united message to the influencer: “Respect the mountain.”