The coming of a new millennium, 2000, activated several millennialism groups. The beliefs at the time ranged from Y2K computer bug, that would lead to major catastrophes worldwide, to Christian fundamentalists, who though they foresaw God pouring out his judgment on the world on this day. The best known millenarian group was Heaven’s Gate – a UFO religious sect, which 39 members committed mass suicide.
Heaven’s Gate was founded the early 1970’s by two individuals named Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles. Applewhite was a strong skilled musician and was a teacher at The University of Alabama. He eventually moved to Texas and became chair of the music department at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. Following his father’s passing, Applewhite went on a downward spiral bout of depression. During this time, he met Bonnie Nettles, a practicing nurse who had a keen interest in extraterrestrials, theosophy, and biblical prophecy. Though it is not clear where the two had met, it has been said that both Nettles and Applewhite quickly became very close friends.
Their friendship solidified throughout the years, mostly due to their shared obsession with works of science fiction, St. Francis of Assisi, the New Testament, and asceticism – a lifestyle that is characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures in order to pursue spiritual goals. Both Nettles and Applewhite began to believe that they were the chosen ones that were put on earth to fulfill many biblical prophecies. As a partnership, they believed that were of higher intelligence than most other human beings and wanted to find like-minded individuals to join them in their prophecy fulfilling crusade.
In order to seek out their “crew”, Nettles and Applewhite published advertisements and held many events in which they promised newbies that their participation would be bringing them to a higher evolutionary level.
Those who joined Heaven’s Gate had a very unique, eccentric, and unorthodox belief system. They believed that they had to shed every aspect of their human existence on planet Earth in order to be eligible for the “new level”- their own version of eternal happiness, peace, and escape from human torture and suffering. This is where Applewhite and Nettles decided to change their born given names to Bo and Peep and eventually to Do and Ti. They also had their members shed every personal aspect about themselves, including: sexuality, jobs, money, individuality, and practically anything that attached them as humanoids on planet Earth. This concept was based around cleansing oneself. Applewhite, Nettles, and the “crew” were no longer people with human histories. Instead, they now had clean slates and had taken on new lives.
Their main belief centered around the recycling of planet Earth, in which the earth is wiped clean and refurbished every some odd number of years. They believed that the only way to escape this recycling was to leave Earth as soon as possible. In order to do this, Heaven’s Gates members had to leave their bodies, or “vehicles” behind and venture to Comet Hale-Bopp. Although suicide was looked down upon by members, it was the only way they could come up with to free themselves.
Heaven’s Gate practiced their traditions throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. They even brought in several more members. However, during this time, Nettles was suffering from cancer. In 1982, Nettles had her eye removed due to cancer and was informed by doctors that the cancer was spreading quickly throughout her body. She refused to die for two years, claiming that she could not leave Applewhite behind. Eventually she succumbed to the disease and passed away on January 20th, 1985. On her death bed, Nettles convinced Applewhite and the rest of the group that her “broken-down vehicle was left behind” and they were to follow her shortly.
Once Nettles had passed, Applewhite completely took over leadership of the group until. He eventually had enough of his existence and decided to “evacuate earth” alongside his 38 followers. On March 19th to March 20th, Applewhite and his 38 disciples took phenobarbital mixed with apple sauce and washed the mixture down with vodka. After ingesting the lethal dosages of poison, the 39 Heaven’s Gates members wrapped plastic bags around their heads to suffocate themselves.
When their bodies were found, they were each nestled comfortably in their bunk beds located in their 9,200-square-foot rented home. They were all dressed in identical outfits – black pants and shirts, Nike sneakers, and armband patches. Each member had 3 quarters in their pockets to make phone calls and a five dollar bill to cover vagrancy costs while they were out on jobs.
According to Applewhite’s personal video recordings prior to the mass suicide, he and the members were committing suicide to evacuate earth. Following the evacuation of Earth, he and his members were to jump on board a spacecraft that would take their new souls to another “level of existence above human”.
While the whole Heaven’s Gate story is eerie in itself, probably the most eerie and hair-raising part about the story is the fact that original Heaven’s Gate website is still active. While no one really knows who is running the website and who is answering emails and inquiries, it is definitely still being looked after and maintained. We can only assume that a few of the Heaven’s Gates members decided to stay here on planet Earth in their human “vehicles”.