Groups that have committed such mass suicides and that have been called cults include Heaven's Gate, Order of the Solar Temple, and Peoples Temple (in the Jonestown incident). In other cases, such as the Filippians, a group has apparently supported mass suicide without necessarily encouraging all members to participate.
- 1 Known cult suicides
- 2 Disputed cult suicides
- 3 See also
- 4 Footnotes
- 5 External links
Known cult suicides
Peoples Temple (1978)
On November 18, 1978, 918 Americans died in Peoples Temple-related incidents, including 909 members of the Temple, led by Jim Jones, in Jonestown, Guyana. The dead included 303 children. A tape of the Temple's final meeting in a Jonestown pavilion contains repeated discussions of the group committing "revolutionary suicide," including reference to people taking the poison and the vats to be used.
On that tape, Jones tells Temple members that Russia, with whom the Temple had been negotiating a potential exodus for months, would not take them after the Temple had murdered Congressman Leo Ryan, NBC reporter Don Harris and three others at a nearby airstrip. When members apparently cried, Jones counseled "Stop this hysterics. This is not the way for people who are Socialists or Communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity." At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: "We didn't commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world."
The people in Jonestown died of an apparent cyanide poisoning, except for Jones (injury consistent with self-inflicted gunshot wound) and his personal nurse. The Temple had spoken of committing "revolutionary suicide" in prior instances, and members had previously drunk what Jones told them was poison at least once before, but the "Flavor Aid" drink they ingested contained no poison. Concurrently, four other members died in the Temple's headquarters in Georgetown.
Solar Temple (1994-97)
From 1994 to 1997, the Order of the Solar Temple's members began a series of mass suicides, which led to roughly 74 deaths. Farewell letters were left by members, stating that they believed their deaths would be an escape from the "hypocrisies and oppression of this world." Added to this they felt they were "moving on to Sirius." Records seized by the Quebec police showed that some members had personally donated over $1 million to the cult's leader, Joseph Di Mambro.
There was also another attempted mass suicide of the remaining members, which was thwarted in the late 1990s. All the suicide/murders and attempts occurred around the dates of the equinoxes and solstices, which likely held some relation to the beliefs of the group.
Heaven's Gate (1997)
On March 26, 1997, 39 followers of Heaven's Gate died in a mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California, which borders San Diego to the north. These people believed, according to the teachings of their cult, that through their suicides they were "exiting their human vessels" so that their souls could go on a journey aboard a spaceship they believed to be following comet Hale-Bopp. Some male members of the cult underwent voluntary castration in preparation for the genderless life they believed awaited them after the suicide.
On March 30, 1997, Thomas Nichols, younger brother of actress Nichelle Nichols, was discovered dead in his California trailer, with a note nearby that read in part "I'm going to the spaceship with Hale-Bopp to be with those who have gone before me." Using propane gas to end his life, Nichols, like the members of Heaven's Gate, had his head covered by a plastic bag and his upper torso covered with a purple shroud. Nichols' connection with the cult is unknown.
In May 1997, two Heaven's Gate members who had not been present for the mass suicide attempted suicide, one completing in the attempt, the other going into coma for two days and then recovering. In February 1998 the survivor, Chuck Humphrey, committed suicide.
Disputed cult suicides
Branch Davidians (1993)
On April 19, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms siege of the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas ended with an assault and subsequent firestorm that destroyed the compound and killed most of the inhabitants. During the siege, highly concentrated C.S. gas and pyrotechnic "flash-bang" grenades were fired. Some believe these devices ignited the gasoline stockpiled inside the building.
Richard L. Sherrow, a fire and explosion investigator hired by plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit to investigate the cause of the fire stated in his conclusion that "the fire originated in the southeast corner tower from the tipping of a lit Coleman-type lantern which fell onto combustible materials, most likely bedding materials, as the room was utilized as sleeping quarters, and was most likely caused by violent contact or mechanical shock associated with the CEV removing the corner of the southeast tower directly under the point of origin."
Most news reports immediately after the fire held that the Branch Davidians, when being overrun, started fires, and therefore this incident was a "cult suicide" or even a murder-suicide perpetrated by the leaders. However, some independent journalists, academics, and other experts contend that the fires could have been an accident or result of a panic.
In January 1998 Heide Fittkau-Garthe, a German psychologist, and a previously high-profile Brahma Kumaris, were charged in the Canary Islands with a plot of murder-suicide in which 32 group members, including five children, were to ingest poison. After the suicides, they were told they would be picked up by a spaceship and taken to an unspecified destination. Suicide was to take place in the Teide National Park. It seems that the sect had no official name, although it was referred to as "Heide" in honor of its founder. However a more recent article in Tenerife News casts doubt that there was any intention on the part of the group to commit suicide.
Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (2000)
On March 17, 2000, 778 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in Uganda. The theory that all of the members died in a mass suicide was changed to mass murder when decomposing bodies were discovered in pits with signs of strangulation while others had stab wounds. The group had diverged from the Roman Catholic Church in order to emphasize apocalypticism and alleged Marian apparitions. The group had been called an inward-looking movement that wore matching uniforms and restricted their speech to avoid saying anything dishonest or sinful. On the suicide itself locals said they held a party at which 70 crates of soft drinks and three bulls were consumed.
This version of events has been criticized, most notably by Irving Hexham, and a Ugandan source states that even today "no one can really explain the whys, hows, whats, where, when, etcetera."
The Family International (2005)
At the beginning of 2005, The Family International gained renewed media attention due to the premeditated murder–suicide of former member Ricky Rodriguez, biological son of current leader Karen Zerby and informally adopted son of the group's founder, David Berg. It revived allegations that the group is abusive and inciting of suicidal ideation. Thus his death was widely called a "suicide of a cult member", or "cult suicide", though this view was far from universal. The event made it to popular culture in oblique references in NBC shows Third Watch and Law & Order.
Defenders of the group contend that Rodriguez's behavior was not typical of the group, and that there is no evidence their members are more suicidal than those in mainstream society.
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