Anatomy of a mass suicide: The dark, twisted story behind a UFO death cult
By Benjamin E. Zeller
Excerpted from Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion
In March 1997, all 39 members of the religious group Heaven’s Gate committed suicide. But why?
Â Â Â On March 22 and March 23, 1997, all thirty-nine active members of Heavenâs Gate committed suicide, exiting the Earth, as they referred to the act. In three waves, members ingested a poisonous mixture of barbiturates and alcohol, and as their breath slowed and bodies shut down, they asphyxiated under plastic bags that they had tied over their heads. Members followed guidelines they had researched several years earlier, and laid down their earthly lives in what can only be called ritual precision and attention to detail. In keeping with the groupâs customs, each member wore an identical uniform, but in their final months the groupâs members had added a customized âHeavenâs Gate Away Teamâ patch that positioned them as merely visitors to this planet rather than inhabitants, invoking the concept from the Star Trek universe of visitors from a traveling spaceship.
They also covered themselves in purple shrouds, the shroud an echoing of nearly universal ancient burial customs, and the purple a reminder not only of the Easter season but, as Robert W. Balch and David Taylor have pointed out, Nettlesâs favorite color. Each member carried a five-dollar bill and three quarters, a standard practice that members of the group had followed to avoid being stranded without money for transportation. Members of each wave had cleaned and tidied after their compatriots had died, removing the plastic bags and draping the shrouds over their deceased companions. Applewhite ended his life on the second day of the suicide, along with his closest helpers. When ex-member Neoody, informed of the exits by a mailing he had received from the group, found the bodies on March 26, there was nothing left of Heavenâs Gate. Neoody called the 911 telephone emergency hotline to report the deaths, then left. . . .