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03-20-07, 12:12 PM #1
Heaven's Gate - 10 Year Anniversary
Ten years ago, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide inside a Rancho Santa Fe mansion. First responders are still haunted by the gruesome discovery.
By J. Harry Jones
March 18, 2007
Ten years ago next week, one of the strangest events in county history exploded into the public's consciousness. For several days, it was the biggest news story in the world.
It began unfolding the afternoon of Wednesday, March 26, 1997, during a period when the Hale-Bopp comet could be seen in the night sky.
Inside a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult lay dead. Convinced that a spaceship was traveling behind the comet and that they would be transported to the vessel to begin a new life “beyond human,” they had poisoned themselves. Twenty-one women and 18 men died by eating pudding and applesauce laced with phenobarbital and other drugs – the largest mass suicide on U.S. soil.
"We didn't know what to expect going in there," said sheriff's Deputy Robert Brunk, who returned to the site of the now-razed Rancho Santa Fe house last week. He was the first to arrive in 1997.
All went willingly under the guidance of their leader, Marshall Applewhite, also known as “Do.”
Their bodies were discovered by a former cult member who had received videotapes in the mail telling him that by the time he watched them, the group would have moved on.
Rio DiAngelo, whose real name was Richard Ford, drove with his boss from Los Angeles to the mansion. After looking inside, he placed an anonymous phone call to 911 that dispatchers initially found inconceivable.
“I don't think anybody really believed what the person was saying,” said Robert Brunk, a sheriff's deputy who had just started his shift at the Encinitas station. “It was an anonymous call to the communications center stating that 40 people had committed suicide and they were cult members. It came out as a 'welfare check,' and they had held the call for a while because it was busy.”
Brunk went to the address, 18241 Colina Norte, which turned out to be a 9,000-square-foot, two-story home up a 200-foot driveway.
“As I'm driving, I'm thinking to myself, 'How am I going to explain to the people that live there the purpose for my visit?' ”
But when he arrived, things seemed odd. All the windows were closed and the curtains drawn. Two vans parked in the driveway were rented, a dispatcher confirmed.
Brunk found an unlocked door on the side of the house. When he opened it, the stench nearly knocked him over.
He shouted that he was with the Sheriff's Department, then backed out and waited for Deputy Laura Gacek, who arrived in a separate patrol car.
“We didn't know what to expect going in there,” Brunk said. “You start thinking of cults and all sorts of things start playing in your mind – animal and human sacrifice, that kind of thing.
“As we entered the house, we started seeing bodies that were covered up. ... Every room that you went into, we found more. Some were in bunk beds.
“They were all in their running suits with their 'Heaven's Gate Away Team' patch on the sleeve. There was a computer flashing 'Red Alert,' sort of like 'Star Trek.' There was still a load of laundry in the machine. It was surreal.”
Purple shrouds covered all but two bodies. Brunk remembers lifting the shroud off only one person, among the youngest. He also remembers shaking a foot of every body to check for rigor mortis. All were wearing black Nike running shoes with the white swoosh on the side.
“The Nike symbol triggers my memory more than any one thing,” said Brunk, a 17-year veteran. “I remember their shoes, all 39 pairs.”
Later, Brunk and Gacek gave their supervisors a complete account of what they had found.
“It was kind of like a Kodak moment as we watched their jaws drop,” Brunk said.
The two deputies were taken to a hospital to be examined in case they had been exposed to anything toxic. On the trip there, the driver asked what was happening.
“After I told him, he looked at me as if thinking, 'Maybe we're taking you to the wrong type of hospital,' ” Brunk said.
Here's a link for the full story - interesting read
Last edited by Willowdared; 03-20-07 at 12:14 PM.Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.
Do not puff, shade, skew, tailor, firm up, stretch, massage,
or otherwise distort statements of fact.FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley
03-20-07, 12:25 PM #2
Not really this case, but close enough:
Alpha Phi Sigma Alum - Alpha Delta Chapter
03-20-07, 12:47 PM #3
That's gotta be a hell of a thing to carry with you for 10 years.
Bet no one even passes a second thought that the real victims of this incident aren't the dead, but the living who had to deal with the scene. Cops know better.
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03-20-07, 05:25 PM #4
You've seen one dead body; you've seen them all.
I like Bob Brunk, he used to live down the street from me. I worked the Encinitas Station with him. However, I was not working there when the Heaven's Gate circus happened.
I wonder what ever happened to Laura Gacek? Did she medically retire??? I worked the jail with her when she was a Corrections Deputy. She finally made Deputy Sheriff, but I recall she didnít last long.
03-20-07, 05:59 PM #5
03-20-07, 06:12 PM #6
does anyone know where the anniversary party is, and where to send cards
03-20-07, 07:19 PM #7
Ha.. classic.. Heres their (mirrored) website:
http://www.wave.net/upg/gate/There are only two kinds of real justice left: street and poetic...
Canada, huh? Almost made it...
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03-20-07, 08:27 PM #8
03-21-07, 07:32 AM #9
Doesn't feel like 10 years since the incident, but the math adds up"That's how we roll"
03-21-07, 08:06 AM #10Banned
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Glad to have a good memory of that time, and hope those who had to deal with the mass suicide have experienced more memory fade.
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