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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (March 31, 1997)
Cult* last days: sky-searching, lemon purges
By Michelle Locke
• SAN DIEGO (AP) — For months, the 39
members of Heaven’s Gate climbed a sci-fi
stairway to Paradise, step by faithful step.
Up before dawn, they prayed and then
trained a telescope on the sky to look for the
UFO they believed would whisk them away
from Earth’s tribulations.
In March, as the Hale-Bopp comet swooped
to within 122 million miles of Earth, they got
the signal: Time to go.
Suddenly, their daily regimen switched from
holistic hokum to recipe for destruction as they
leaped into the void fueled by a cocktail of pud
ding, sedatives and vodka, confident to the end
that cosmic salvation beckoned.
uWe know whatever happens to us after
we leave our bodies is a step forward”—vid
eotaped message by Marshall Applewhite,
leader of Heaven '5 Gate.
Last October, the group known as Heaven’s
Gate moved into the sprawling mansion that
would eventually become their high-priced
There, according to people who knew them
through their business incarnation of Web site
designers Higher Source Contract Enterprises,
group members followed a schedule of almost
military precision. They got up at 3 a.m. for
prayers, searched the sky at 4 a.m., ate a com
munal meal at 5 a.m.
The rest of the day it was work and more
work, interspersed by breaks for fruit and a
lemon-cayenne pepper drink reminiscent of the
faddish ’70s purge known as the “Master
They wore black and kept their hair trimmed
to Marine-recruit length. They didn’t drink al
cohol. They didn’t do drugs. They didn’t have
sex. Some of the men had taken celibacy to the
*7have the same kind of penetrating ques
tions that you have: Who or what would make
39 people take their life in this manner?” —
Sheriff Bill Kolender at a news conference de
scribing the deaths.
In mid-November, a rumor began to circu
late that there was a spaceship lurking behind
On their Web site, cult members made ref
erences to the ghost ship. But they said it was
irrelevant, because the comet signaled it was
time for “the arrival of the spacecraft from the
Level Above Human to take us home to Their
In March, the group started winding down
their business, telling some clients not to call
them until after Easter. One company tried to
hang on to their services, recalled an employee
who knew three cult members by the names of
Jeff Moore, Nora and Golden.
“They became indecisive. It was like part
of them didn’t want to leave,” the employee,
who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the
The San Diego Union-Tribune.
On Friday, March 21, the group went out to
lunch at a Marie Callender’s restaurant in sub
Typical of their contact with outsiders, they
were friendly, polite — and a little bit strange.
They asked for so many lemons that the res
taurant went through three deep-dish casserole
pans of quartered lemons.
“They kept asking for lemons for their ice
tea; we couldn’t keep up,” waiter Jeff Mercier
told The North County Times. “They were just
sucking them down.”
On Sunday, house owner Sam
Koutchesfahani paid a visit. His lawyer would
later say the group seemed fine and gave him a
computer for his son to use in school.
That night, the ball of frozen gas and dust
known as Hale-Bopp made its closest pass to
The Heaven’s Gate Web site was updated
one last time at 10:26 Pacific time.
In its final version, the page carried a flash
ing logo borrowed from Star TVek.
“Red Alert, Hale-Bopp Brings Closure to
“Take the little package of pudding or
applesauce and eat a couple of teaspoons.
Pour the medicine in and stir it up. Eat it fairly
quickly and then drink the vodka beverage.
Then lay back and rest quietly. ” — suicide
instructions as read by the medical examiner.
Notes, a trash can full of plastic bags and
medical evidence indicate the final hours of
Heaven’s Gate was a calmly choreographed
dance of death.
Members put on a uniform of long black
pants, oversized black shirts and brand-new
black Nike sneakers emblazoned with the shoe
maker’s comet-like white “swoosh” trademark.
All but one of the group had left a final
message on videotape.
“I am doing this of my own free will,” said
one man. “It is not something someone brain
washed me into or convinced me of or did a
con job on.”
Most tucked identification into their shirt
pockets along with a $5 bill and some quar
ters. They packed suitcases or canvas grips and
stowed the luggage neatly at the foot of their
Then they settled themselves on the white
and yellow comforters with a plastic container
of pudding or applesauce, a dose of phenobar
bital and a vodka drink.
The first group, probably 15, spooned up
the drug and drank, and then plastic bags went
over their heads, suffocating them. Eight as
sistants arranged the corpses, cleaning up the
trash and draping a 3-foot-square piece of
purple cloth over head and torso.
A second group followed.
Finally, they were down to two. Two last
doses, two find plastic bags.
Heaven's Gate closed.
“The window to Heaven will not open
again until another civilization is planted and
has reached sufficient maturity (according to
the judgment of the next level)** — posting
On Tuesday, March 25, a former cult mem
ber known as Rio DiAngelo got a letter and
two videos at his new job in Beverly Hills.
On Wednesday, he showed his boss, Nick
Matzorkis, the package with its ominous mes
sage that the cult had “shed our containers.”
Within minutes, the two were making the
drive south to Rancho Santa Fe.
At the house, Matzorkis waited in the drive
way while Rio went inside.
Ten minutes later Rio came out, his face
white as a sheet.
“They did it,” he said.
An exceptional boy meets an untimely end
By Nancy Shulins
All his life, Vincent Graham
has preached in God’s
army, a fundamentalist foot
soldier armed with the Word. He’s
a youth minister, a Bible scholar, a
missionary. He knows a miracle
when he sees one.
In 44 years he’s seen many,
none greater than the birth of his
oldest son, Samuel. Vincent called
him a Miracle Boy.
One night last August in Fort
Lauderdale, Fla. while his family
slept, the Miracle Boy climbed out
of bed, dragged a step stool into the
back yard and hanged himself from
a fruit tree. He was 12.
On his last day on Earth,
Sammy Graham went to church.
He had a pillow fight with his
brothers and ate ice cream fa* des
sert. And if his suicide remains a
mystery to his parents, at least it’s
a private one now. The news vans
that tore up their front lawn are
gone, as are all the reporters who
used their bathroom and promised
to keep in touch. No one has.
At the immaculate little ranch
house where Samuel lived and
died, reminders of his shot life are
everywhere: his Little League tro
phies, the piano he was learning to
play, the empty vase he always
filled with the wildflowers he
picked for his mother.
The fat kid’
Jacqueline Graham still can’t
• bring herself to show her son’s
room to a stranger, but you don’t
need to look past the photos in the
living room to see who he was: He
was the fat kid who didn’t have any
friends. The easy target. The mark.
It’s all there in his eyes: The sweet
ness. The shyness. The hurt.
At 5 feet 4 inches, 174 pounds,
he wasn’t the heaviest kid at his
school. But he was sensitive, and
when the others teased him about
his weight, when they chased him
down the street or smacked the
back of his head when the teacher
wasn’t looking, he sometimes
cried. In the social hierarchy of fifth
grade at Westwood Heights El
ementary School, that put him
squarely at the bottom.
Starting sixth grade
Would things have been any dif
ferent at Parkway Middle School?
Sammy was to have started sixth
grade there that Monday, the morn
ing his father cut him down from
His family is coping; “not
healed,” Jackie says, “but able to
go on.” The same God that let
Sammy go home to Jesus has al
lowed his two younger brothers to
bounce back, and the parents are
grateful. Such is the magnitude of
Sammy had it, too — “a deep,
unusual love for Jesus at that ten
der age,” Jackie says. “He loved
God. He loved church. He always
sat in the second pew. He would
come hone and tell you, verbatim,
what was said.” x
In church, it’s the soul, not the
body, that matters; on the road to
salvation, no one gets chased. And
if God sees the sparrow, he must
have seen Sammy, in his navy blue
blazer, sitting up front.
He wasn’t just saved, after all.
He was a Miracle Boy.
A prophecy comes true
By all rights, he shouldn’t have
been here at all But years ago, a
dying man gave Vincent his bless
ing. It was that blessing, Vincent
believes, that led to the miracle of
He was a teen-ager in Jamaica
when it happened. The man “be
gan speaking in tongues, which
was strange, because he wasn’t
thought of as saved. Then he said,
' I must convey upon you the father
hood blessing.’” At the time,
Vincent was disappointed. “I was
hoping for rich and famous.”
Years later, when doctors diag
nosed his low sperm count, he re
membered the blessing and expe
rienced a revelation. Rather than
seek medical treatment, he would
let nature take its course.
Though she longed for a fam
ily, Jackie concurred. “I have faith
in your faith,” she told Vincent. “If
you believe that much, I believe in
God tested their faith fa- seven
long years. “On the seventh day of
the seventh year of our marriage,
Jackie was seven days pregnant.
Seven! The number of God’s per
fection.” He took that as a sign and
gave his son the Greek name
Simeon Ozee Ouk Ozee: “He liveth
whom they say could not live.”
The name proved prophetic. At
eight months, Sammy suffered a
seizure. He stopped breathing, and
the ambulance took forever. “I took
him on my shoulder,” Vincent says,
“and he was stiff. The doctors said
even if he lived he’d be brain-dam
But instantly came a new rev
elation: “I called his name, in the
name of Jesus! I said, ‘How can he
die when his name is Simeon Ozee
Ouk Ozee?’ And he lived.”
Editor’s Note: Please see the sec
ond installment of “Tender Mer
cies” in tomorrow’s Daily Ne
Israelis station tanks
NABLUS, West Bank (AP) —
Thousands of demonstrators shouting
“Vengeance!” filled streets throughout
the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Sun
day, protesting Israeli construction in
east Jerusalem and venting their an
ger over the killing of a demonstra
Israel, fearing the spread of vio
lence on Land Day — an annual day
of protests against Israeli land confis
cations —stationed a half-dozen tanks
outside Nablus and beefed up its troop
presence at checkpoints and military
bases around other Palestinian towns.
But Palestinian police largely suc
ceeded in creating a buffer between
their own people and Israeli troops—
at times firing into the air, beating
protesters with clubs and chasing
The only death in 11 days of riots
had been that of Abdullah Salah, a
Palestinian engineering student killed
Saturday. The unrest began when Is
rael broke ground on a new Jewish
housing project in east Jerusalem,
which the Palestinians claim as a fu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu on Sunday accused Pales
tinians of unleashing “terrorism as a
weapon of the negotiations” and la
mented “a virtual collapse of the peace
■ Throughout foe West Bank and Gaia
Stri> Palestinians pretest to oiark land •;
: Day and anger overthe Israel tffingcf
■ Israel stationed tanks outside Nablus,
and warned Palestinian poloe they ,
would be brought in if Joseph*Ibnto
nsstv 1 Questions? Comments? Ask for the
MaKt»QclrQ M. appropriate section editor at472
Managing Editor Paula Lavigne
Assoc. Newt Editors: Joshua GHIin
Night Editor Anne Hjersman
Opinion Editor Anthony Nguyen
APWire Editor: JohnFulwider
Copy Desk Chief: Julie Sobczyk
Sports Editor: Trevor Parks
A&E Editor: Jeff Randall
Photo Director: Scott Bruhn
Art Director: Aaron Steckelberg
Web Editor: Michelle Collins
Editor*: Bryce Glenn
FAX NUMBER: 472-1761
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