[CNI News thanks Houston-area researcher Dale Musser, who attended Chuck Shramek's press conference on Friday, March 28, for sending this report.]
by Dale Musser
As the reports of suicide deaths of 39 individuals in California last week shocked the world, people began asking how such a thing could happen. Word of the group's belief in aliens and UFOs coming to collect them, and the story that the comet Hale-Bopp signaled this event, quickly led many to speculate that the rumors of a "companion" with Hale-Bopp had hastened their decision to commit suicide. Facts and fiction quickly became merged, and within hours of the news being released, hate mail, angry phone calls and accusatory news articles began to be addressed to one Chuck Shramek. Shramek is a newsman on the Stevens & Pruett radio show on KLOL radio in Houston, Texas, and an amateur astronomer.
Shramek's alleged connection to all this began on the night of November 14, 1996, as he looked at a computer image of the comet Hale-Bopp taken through his telescope. He became fascinated by a strange, bright "Saturn-like" object that appeared near the comet. Checking star charts, he was unable to locate any object fitting the size and brightness of the object in his photo. Shramek posted his photo on his web site on the Internet with the question, "Does anyone know what this thing is next to the comet?" Later, he sent a fax to the Art Bell radio show to see if any of Art's listeners had seen this strange object, and if they could identify it. Art called Shramek and asked him on the air to describe what he had seen. Shramek described the image as a "Saturn-like" object, but at no time did he ever claim it to be a spacecraft or alien-related.
But things soon became confused. Following Art's interview with Shramek on the radio, he had as his guest Professor Courtney Brown of Emory University. Brown, who claims to be able to teach people "remote viewing," said that the object photographed by Shramek was a spaceship filled with aliens. Soon, Shramek's photo of the comet and the stories on Art Bell's show were circulating globally, with Shramek falsely believed by many to be the author of the claims about the object being a spaceship.
After the report of the suicides in California, many news reports featured small segments linking Shramek's comet photo and the Courtney Brown statements to the group's behavior. Shramek began receiving phone calls and email accusing him of being responsible for the group deaths. The contents of these messages indicated that many believed he had inspired the group's beliefs.
In an effort to dispel these ideas, Shramek held a press conference in Houston on Friday afternoon, March 28. The level of press interest was indicated in the fact that all the major network-affiliate TV stations were present, as well as one UHF station and a Hispanic station. The New York Times had a reporter there, as did another newspaper not identified by this writer.
The mood at the press conference was light. Shramek distributed a prepared statement and took questions. The assorted reporters seemed to be sympathetic to Shramek, and the questions indicated a level of understanding that he was more a victim of misinformation than responsible for the cult's actions.
In his prepared release, Shramek said, "Like nearly all of us, I was shocked over the tragic mass suicide in California. My shock turned to horror when some wire service reports actually made a connection between me and the cult suicides. The story had me the source of an Internet rumor that a spaceship was following behind the comet Hale-Bopp. This is simply not true."
Shramek then reviewed how he photographed an unusual object through his telescope on November 14, which soon became the focus of a heated controversy on late-night radio and the internet. "I want to make it clear that I am not the source of the spaceship stories regarding the comet," he repeated.
Shramek also stated his opinion that, no matter what stories were told about a possible Hale-Bopp "companion," responsibility for the suicides lay elsewhere.
"Regardless of the source [of such stories], one can hardly be held responsible for the actions of some very insane people led by an apparent madman... Even the cult's own Internet page stated that the cult was not convinced there really was a spaceship or 'companion' near the comet. Of course I am upset and saddened by the cult suicide, but in no way do I feel I caused this tragedy," he concluded.
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