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What Was Heaven’s Gate? Inside the Cult that Shocked America

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In March 1997, 39 members of the cult Heaven’s Gate were found dead in their beds in a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego in California. The 18 men and 21 women were all dressed in identical black clothing and sneakers and were covered with purple sheets.

At the time it was the largest mass suicide in the country's history and shook America to its core and led to curiosity about what was Heaven’s Gate. 

Opening the Gate

Marshall Applewhite, who founded Heaven’s Gate in 1974 and went by the name “Do,” brainwashed his followers into believing that the world was going to end in 1997 and the only chance to “survive” would be to follow his instructions. 

It emerged that Applewhite was able to talk his followers into consuming a vodka that was combined with either chocolate pudding or apple sauce and then laced with barbiturates. Some also had plastic bags pulled over their heads when the scene in Rancho Santa Fe was discovered.

Applewhite told them the comet Hale-Bopp was being trailed by an alien spacecraft and, if they died, they could board it. He said that after their deaths, they would be transported to a new level of existence.

“Your only chance to survive or to evacuate is to leave with us,” Applewhite told his followers and others in a video leading up to the mass suicide. 

Reporters were stunned when they gained access to the mansion following the mass suicide. They found blood stains and splatters across some of the rooms.

The ages of those who perished ranged from 26 to 72. 

The bunks and shrouds discovered at the mansion are now on display at the Museum of Death in Hollywood, Calif. Mannequins wear the actual clothes taken from some of the bodies.

Closing the Gate

A year after the grim discovery, the mother of one of the victim’s spoke to Inside Edition about how her son fell into the group’s web. 

Nancie Brown, whose son, David Moore, was found in the macabre mansion, spoke to Inside Edition on the one-year anniversary of the Heaven’s Gate unearthing. 

“It was probably the worst day of my life,” she said to Inside Edition in 1998 of finding out that David was gone. 

David Moore was a member of the group for 20 years. His mom says that over the years she only saw him twice but always kept her door open for him to return.

“It is sad that when Heaven’s Gate closed, it closed and I felt that it left me and the other families behind and we will never see them again,” Brown said. 

Before the news broke of the grim scene, the area was discovered by both Heaven's Gate members and civilians who were supposed to be at the house that day. 

Rio DiAngelo, a Heaven’s Gate member who survived the ordeal of the group, discovered the bodies and called 911. 

In a strange twist, on the morning of the mortuary discovered at that mansion, Lawrence Jimenez was supposed to clean the pool but said he sensed danger and turned back at the gate. He told Inside Edition in 1998 he would never return to the home.

What Remains

In 2017, during the 20th anniversary of the discovery, a man who identified himself as a former cult member named Sawyer told Inside Edition that he spent 18 years with Heaven's Gate and reached the rank of "overseer" before leaving in 1994.

Sawyer, who declined to reveal his last name, recalled his conversations with the leader of the cult, Marshall Applewhite.

“He said that there wasn't a day that went by that he didn't think of himself as insane,” Sawyer said of Applewhite, who was known by his fellow followers as "Do."

For Nancie Brown, the final moments of her son’s life haunt her. 

“Did he go happy, joyful in his last conscious thought, or was there a flicker of, ‘Oh no, maybe I should not have done that?’” she asked. 

The website for the cult remains online. It appears as it did decades ago.

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