In 1997, 39 people took their own lives in an attempt to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial spacecraft following Comet Hale–Bopp.
The cult leader Marshall Applewhite persuaded 38 followers to prepare for a ritual suicide, believing it would enable their souls to board the supposed extraterrestrial craft.
Applewhite believed that after their deaths, an unidentified flying object (UFO) would transport their souls to another "level of existence above human," which he described as being both physical and spiritual.
All cult followers were dressed in black tracksuits, with customized patches identifying themselves as the “Heaven’s Gate Away Team,” and wore Nike Decade sneakers.
The followers committed suicide by ingesting barbiturates mixed into applesauce or pudding and chased it down with vodka. After tying plastic bags around their heads, the 39 followers climbed into bunk beds to wait for their "graduation."
The cult didn’t refer to the act as suicide. They called it graduation. To them, those who stayed behind were the ones killing themselves.
The 39 cult members committed suicide in shifts over three days, so that those still earthbound could tidy up after those who had just left, draping purple shrouds atop the bodies.
Inside their pockets, each cult member had a five-dollar bill and three quarters for the "interplanetary toll."
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