SAN DIEGO — Content warning: This story and the footage in it are of a sensitive nature and may not be suitable for all readers.
SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — 25 years ago today, the Heaven’s Gate religious cult garnered worldwide attention after nearly 40 of its members were discovered dead at a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe. The group had been part of a mass suicide which they believed would earn them access to a spacecraft following Comet Hale-Bopp.
The bodies of Heaven’s Gate’s leader Marshall Applewhite – also known as “Do” – and 38 members were discovered on March 26, 1997 at a home in an upscale gated community. Police responded to the scene after receiving an anonymous call from what turned out to be a former member of the group who had received “exit interview” tapes in the mail.
Authorities believed the individuals died over the course of three days and were found on bunk beds covered by purple shrouds. Each of the members found had a $5 bill and three quarters in their pocket and were dressed in matching black shirts and sweats with new Nike shoes.
News 8 footage from the day after the discovery of the dead Heaven’s Gate members showcases some of the videos they made prior to the mass suicide.
Reporter Judy Hsu narrates as several members are shown with shaved heads talking about how they came to join the group. As images of the home and bodies are shown, the audio continues with members talking about their bodies as “vehicles” and leaving the “human kingdom for a level above human.” The video continues with a message from group leader Marshall Applewhite – also known as “Do.”
Just weeks after the bodies were found, News 8 was able to tour the Heaven's Gate home. News 8's Ted Garcia was invited inside the mansion and saw remnants of the mass suicide.
News 8 photojournalist Mike Edison also toured the home Heaven's Gate rented and reflects on what he saw in the 2019 video below.
Twenty years after the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide, News 8’s Marcella Lee took a look back at the bizarre and tragic event that shocked a quiet San Diego neighborhood.
The anniversary piece also shows the exit interviews of several members and the reaction from San Diego Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Brunk who was the first person to respond to the scene in 1997.