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Heaven's Gate (Part 2)

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Things to beware of in 1997:

Charlatan prophets, fakir diviners, cults of personality, and the
general insanity of the approaching millenial madness!


`Task completed': Cult members hoped for cosmic rendezvous

March 28, 1997 7:40 a.m. EST

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. (AP) -- Among the 39 New
Age cult members who killed themselves en masse
was a former college music teacher who as far back
as 20 years ago was preaching a bizarre mix of
Scripture and UFOs.

Marshall Applewhite, 66, was identified today as
authorities wrestled with a dizzying onslaught of
information about the Heaven's Gate cult from
multiple sources -- the Internet, states from
Michigan to New Mexico and calls from relatives of
the victims.

Investigators believe the 21 women and 18 men
drank a lethal mixture of phenobarbital and vodka
and then settled back to die at the cult's
palatial home near San Diego.

The victims apparently believed their deaths would
lead to a rendezvous with a UFO trailing the
Hale-Bopp comet, which passed closest to Earth
last weekend. The group had posted a statement on
its World Wide Web site that said, ``Hale-Bopp's
approach is the `marker' we've been waiting for.
We are happily prepared to leave `this world.'''

Even more answers may be contained in a tome
published by the New Age cult last year.

A strange blend of Christianity and outer space
similar to Applewhite's former proselytizing is
weaved throughout the 4-inch-thick book, parts of
which were posted on the group's web site,
Heaven's Gate.

The book contains ``exit statements'' that
resemble suicide notes.

``Survival requires that you allow nothing of this
human existence to tie you here,'' wrote one cult
member, identified only as Anlody.

``No wealth, no position, no prestige, no family,
no physical pleasure, and no religion spouting to
hang on to any of the above will enable you to
survive. They are only entrapments.''

A cult leader identified online only as ``Do,''
said, ``We take the prize, I guess, of being the
cult of cults.''

Do could be Applewhite, who along with a colleague
named Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles persuaded
hundreds of people in California, Colorado, New
Mexico and Oregon to leave their families and
belongings behind and join them in 1975.

They were known then as the ``UFO Cult,'' and
Applewhite and Nettles referred to themselves then
as ``The Two.'' The Heaven's Gate web site refers
to its founders as ``The Two'' and said they began
``rounding up their crew in '75.''

A leader -- apparently Nettles -- is called ``Ti''
in the Heaven's Gate writings. Members write as if
she died a few years ago; Nettles died in 1985.

The group had mailed out videos in which their
leader described the hoped-for space encounter.
Members came before the camera two at a time, side
by side, to say their last goodbyes.

One of the videos shows triple images of a bald,
elderly man in a black, collar-less shirt on a
white plastic patio chair who apparently is
beckoning followers to leave the Earth.

``I can be your shepherd,'' the man says. ``You
can follow us but you cannot stay here and follow
us. You would have to follow quickly by also
leaving this world before the conclusion of our
leaving this atmosphere in preparation for its

That man -- who also goes by the name ``Do'' -- is
presumably Applewhite.

Among those saying farewell on a video is a woman
with short cropped hair seated next to a younger
man with a buzz haircut who sat stiffly and
occasionally fidgeted.

``Maybe they're crazy for all I know but I don't
have any choice but to go for it because I've been
on this planet for 31 years and there's nothing
here for me,'' the woman said.

``A lot of it was real and not very scripted. It
was very self-evident that they were winging it,''
said Nick Matzorkis, who went with a former cult
member to the mansion and discovered the bodies
after viewing the videos and a farewell letter
cult members had sent by Federal Express.

``By the time you read this, we suspect that the
human bodies we were wearing have been found, and
that a flurry of fragmented reports have begun to
hit the wire services,'' the letter said.

``We'll be gone -- several dozen of us. We came
from the Level Above Human in distant space and we
have now exited the bodies that we were wearing
for our earthly task, to return to the world from
whence we came -- task completed,'' the letter

Matzorkis, president of Interact Entertainment
Group in Beverly Hills, said a cult member told
him several months ago that a space ship following
the comet was coming to pick them up.

``They did not say they were going to commit
suicide, but they did indicate to me that they
would be leaving the planet,'' Matzorkis said.

The suicides took place over at least three days,
authorities said at an extraordinary news
conference Thursday that included a brief
videotaped tour of the immaculate home.

The video shows corpses clad in identical black
clothing and Nike shoes, all neatly laid out on
mattresses, some with eyeglasses near the bodies.
All were covered with purple, triangular-shaped
shoulder patches bearing the Heaven's Gate name,
although some hands peeked out.

In their pockets were IDs, $5 bills and quarters.

The victims, 26 to 72 years old with driver's
licenses from nine states, apparently died in
shifts over three days -- 15, then 15 more and
then the final nine. Investigators said some may
have died with plastic bags over their heads as
the drugs and alcohol eventually stopped their

``Who or what would make 39 people take their life
in this manner?'' asked Sheriff Bill Kolender.
``While at the scene last night, I told myself
that the question cannot be answered in terms, I
think, that the rest of us will ever understand.''

The cult ran a business at the home called Higher
Source that built web sites for businesses.
Ranging in age from 20 to 72, the members were by
all accounts efficient as a company, puritanical
as individuals.

They called each other brother and sister, dressed
alike and wore buzz haircuts. But their beliefs
were odd by any standard; modern civilization,
wrote a student identified online only as Smmody,
``seems ready to be recycled.''

A self-described prophetic minister from New
Mexico, the Rev. Mike Dew, recalled meeting a
Heaven's Gate leader eight months ago.

``They're preying on weak Christians,'' said Dew,
of the Prophetic Voices of the Wilderness in
Mountainair, N.M. ``They're portraying themselves
as ascended masters or a `Higher Source.' They'll
use the terms `Jesus' and `God,' but not in the
traditional way. If you're not careful, you'll
miss what they're doing.''

By Scott Lindlaw

Next: Heaven's Gate (Part 3)