HE INDIVIDUAL IN THE SOCIAL CONTEXT
Social Cognition and Emotion
Attitudes, Behavior and Persuasion
Health and Happiness
Social Influence and Conformity
Group Performance and Decision-making
Stereotypes, Prejudice and Discrimination
Culture, Conflict and Cooperation
Chapter 1: Introduction
Mass Suicide Involved Sedatives, Vodka and Careful Planning
March 27, 1997
Web posted at: 7:55 p.m. EST
DEL MAR, California (CNN) -- The 39 cult members found dead in a hilltop mansion apparently died
in a carefully orchestrated suicide that involved sedatives, vodka and plastic bags possibly used to
suffocate, officials said Thursday.
The victims apparently believed they were going to meet a UFO hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet.
Police said they had gathered little information so far on the background of the group or its leaders,
only that they operated a computer Web service called "Higher Source." The name of the cult is
"Heaven's Gate," which also has a Web site on the Internet.
The mass suicide likely took place over three days and involved three groups, proceeding in a calm,
ritualistic fashion. Some members apparently assisted others and then cleaned up, then went on to take
their own dose of the fatal mixture, mixed with apple sauce or pudding.
The last two victims to die were found with plastic bags over their heads.
Lying on cots or mattresses with their arms at their sides, the victims each carried identification.
"It seemed to be a group decision," said Dr. Brian Blackbourne, San Diego County Medical Examiner,
at a news conference Thursday. "There were different stages, suggesting it was planned. They all had
IDs. The house was immaculate."
Blackbourne said 21 of the victims were women and 18 were men.
"We're not talking about a drug-crazed, party-time situation .
..The drugs were taken for a very specific
purpose and that was to take their own lives."
Authorities Thursday also showed video of the bloodless death scene at an afternoon news briefing. All
the victims wore black pants and black Nike athletic shoes, their faces and chests covered with purple
shrouds. Their bags had been packed neatly in the dormitory-type rooms. Those who wore glasses had
them carefully placed at their side. In a pocket, most of the victims had a $5 bill and some quarters.
"They were at different stages of deterioration," Jerry Lipscomb of the San Diego Sheriff's Department
told CNN. "That's the most pleasant way I can put that."
Lipscomb said officials were tipped off to the suicide after videotapes and a letter were sent to an ex-
member of the group. No blood was found at the scene, and the only weapon in the house was a 9mm
handgun packed in a suitcase.
"What we're finding is that each and every one of the members of the organization, prior to their death,