26 March 1997

Thirty-nine bodies are found in the Heaven’s Gate mass suicides.

Heaven’s Gate was a religious cult that was founded in the 1970s by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles. The group believed in the existence of extraterrestrial beings and that their mission was to prepare for the arrival of these beings. They believed that the only way to do this was to shed their physical bodies and ascend to a higher plane of existence.

On March 26, 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide in a mass ritual in a rented mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, California. The group believed that their souls would be transported to a spacecraft that was following the Hale-Bopp comet, which was then visible in the night sky.

The members of the cult had been preparing for the suicide for months, selling their possessions, and disconnecting from their families and friends. They ingested a lethal cocktail of phenobarbital and vodka and then laid down to die, dressed in matching black clothing and brand new Nike sneakers. The bodies were discovered by the police two days later.

The mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult shocked the world and brought attention to the dangers of cults and the influence that charismatic leaders can have over their followers. The tragedy also raised questions about mental health, the search for meaning and purpose, and the role of religion and spirituality in our lives.