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Remembering the Heaven's Gate tragedy nearly 25 years later

Posted at 5:28 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 20:28:07-05

SAN DIEGO, CA (KGTV)— March 2022 marks 25 years since one of San Diego’s darkest moments, the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department responded to an anonymous tip on March 26, 1997, which led to the discovery of 39 bodies inside a Rancho Santa Fe Mansion.

Investigators determined that the 39 people mixed drugs into their food, drank alcohol, and put bags over their heads, believing the cult’s leader, Marshall Applewhite, that a UFO trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet would take them to a higher level of existence.

It became the largest mass suicide on U.S. soil.

In a two-hour 20/20 special, ABC’s Diane Sawyer dives back into the mysteries of Heaven’s Gate, speaking with former followers, family members who lost loved ones to the cult, and some of those first to learn of the tragedy. In 1997, Sawyer spoke exclusively with Rio DiAngelo, a former cult member who left before the mass suicide. She interviewed him again more than 20 years later.

The special, The Cult Next Door: The Mystery and Madness of Heaven’s Gate, will air on “20/20” Friday, March 11 from 9:01–11:00 p.m. on ABC and the next day on Hulu.