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Heaven's Gate (Part 14)

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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!
 Cult Members Explain Mass Suicide on Videotape
 Friday, March 28, 1997 2:07:00 PM EST
    RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. (Reuter) - In a dramatic videotaped suicide note
 aired on Friday, the leader of the Heaven's Gate religious cult and 38 of his
 followers explained why they decided to commit suicide.
  ``We have no hesitation to leave this place, to leave the bodies that we
 have,'' Marshall Applewhite, who has been identified as the charismatic leader
 of the group and one of those who died, said on the video.
  The group sent two tapes to a former cult member and left two at the $1.6
 million mansion in the exclusive San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe where they
 committed suicide. Authorities say Applewhite and his followers killed
 themselves in the belief that a UFO hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet that is
 currently visible from Earth would transport them to heaven.
  The San Diego County Coroner's office continued to perform autopsies on the
 bodies. By late Thursday eight had been completed, Coroner Brian Blackbourne
 said on Friday.
  He said the results showed the deaths were caused by a combination of alcohol,
 the drug phenobarbitol and suffocation. Earlier, he said the cult members, most
 of them middle-aged or elderly, had taken the alcohol and drug and then put
 plastic bags over their heads and secured them with elastic bands.
  Blackbourne's office released the names of two other victims, identifying them
 as Jacqueline Leonard, 72, a grandmother from Colorado, and Geoffrey Moore, 41,
 of California.
  Jack Merker, director of media for San Diego County, said Blackbourne would
 disclose other names at a 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) news conference, but he
 cautioned that not all of the victims would be named as some families had
 requested the names of their relatives not be released.
  By early Friday, 22 of the victim's families had been notified. According to
 documents found on the bodies, the cult members came from California, Texas,
 New Mexico, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, Utah and Canada.
  In the videotape, shown on ABC television, the cult members, mainly Caucasian
 men and women who appeared to be in their 30s, 40s and 50s, for the most part
 voiced confidence and happiness with their planned suicides, smiling and even
 laughing as they spoke to the camera in pairs.
  ``I'm about to take an act that probably this world would consider the most
 awful thing that any person could do,'' one man said.
  ``We're going to be moving along to the next evolutionary level above human --
 taking on a brand new vehicle that we're going to be using in the next level,''
 another man said.
  But two women, one who appeared to be in her 30s and another who appeared to
 be in her 60s, looked close to tears and choked on their words. ``We're very
 happy and proud to have been members of the Heaven's Gate group and couldn't be
 happier about what we're going to do,'' the younger woman said.
  ``We are all happy to be doing what we are doing,'' the older woman said.
  Another woman, apparently in her 20s, smiled broadly as she said, ``We are all
 choosing of our own free will to go to the next level.''
  ``We just wish you could all be here and doing what we are doing,'' another
 woman said. There were 21 women among the victims, and 18 men.
  Meanwhile, more facts emerged about Applewhite, who had been a music teacher
 in Houston, Texas, in the 1960's before taking the cult path. His sister,
 Louise Winant, interviewed on television, said Applewhite was the father of two
 children he had not seen for a number of years and that he also had
 grandchildren but did not know it.
  Asked her reaction to the deaths, Winant said, ``Complete sadness that he took
 that many people into something so far out.''
  She said she had not spoken to her brother for more than 20 years. ``The last
 time I saw him he did tell us he was going into (a cult) and we tried to talk
 him out of it and he said, 'You don't know the real me.'''
  Winant, speaking from her home in Corpus Christi, Texas, said her brother,
 whom she described as ``charismatic man,'' changed after a near-death
 experience in the 1970s.
  The bodies were discovered on Wednesday by Beverly Hills computer expert Nick
 Matzorkis and one of his employees, a former member of the cult, who had
 received a packet from the group containing a letter saying its members had
 committed suicide.

Next: Heaven's Gate (Part 15)