[The following is based on a story by Jim Herron Zamora in the San Francisco Examiner newspaper, dated August 25, 1997. CNI News thanks Stig Agermose for bringing this item to our attention.]
Survivors of the Heaven's Gate cult, most of whose members committed suicide last March in the professed hope of going to "the level above human" in a UFO, made their first public presentation to some 65 listeners in Berkeley, California on Sunday, August 24. But many in attendance said the "Away Team" -- as the Heaven's Gate survivors now call themselves -- seemed lost and illogical.
Four members of the "Away Team" presented a videotaped speech by now-deceased cult leader Marshall Herff Applewhite titled "Last Chance to Evacuate Earth -- Before It's Recycled," then stayed to answer questions from the media and other curious attendees.
"We don't care what you think," Heaven's Gate organizer Chuck Humphrey told the assembled crowd. "We're not seeking any new members. There is really no more movement to join. We're just here to present information."
"I feel sorry for people who believe in this," said Keira Wallman, who started her first year of college at UC-Berkeley last week. Wallman, with two other first year students, watched 45 minutes of the 70-minute Applewhite video before leaving.
"The people who joined this cult must have been very desperate," said Matthew Cuss, a native of Bristol, England.
By committing mass suicide, Heaven's Gate followers had hoped to leave their bodies, or "containers," and get on board a spaceship they believed was following the Hale-Bopp comet.
"I am 'Do' of the little UFO religion cult," Applewhite said in the taped monologue. "If you want to go there, then you've got to follow me because I'm the guy who has got the key at the moment.... You have to leave everything behind."
Each of the four "Away Team" members said he was disappointed that he was unable to commit suicide with the 39 Heaven's Gate members who were found dead in a mansion near San Diego, California on March 26.
Chuck Humphrey tried to commit suicide on May 5 at a hotel in San Diego County several miles from where the others had previously died. He was found in the hotel unconscious with a plastic bag pulled off his face. Another follower, Wayne Cooke, successfully committed suicide that day in the same manner.
"I don't know what went wrong," Humphrey said.
Humphrey intended to die by the same route as the cult members: ingesting phenobarbital and vodka, then placing plastic bags over his head.
"But I didn't realize that my container would be thrashing around like that. I guess the bag became loose and came off my head," Humphrey said. "I knew when I woke in a hospital that I was in trouble. I knew then I had failed."
Humphrey had spent most of his life between 1975 and 1997 with the group headed by Applewhite and his woman companion Bonnie Lu Nettles. Humphrey said he had left several times because he lacked the discipline to control his container, but he always returned.
"In 22 years of being with that group, there is nothing I found fault in that they did," he told the Berkeley audience.
Humphrey and the three other "Away Team" members -- who gave their names as Jason Bartel, Juan and Steward -- said the group was not a cult and never forced anyone to stay.
"We were all in the class," said Juan, a native of Venezuela. "We left because we were not ready. We lacked discipline. No one made us leave and they didn't try to make us stay."
The public appearance of the Heaven's Gate survivors had set off speculation that they would try to seek converts, as many non-traditional religious and political groups have done in
the past at Berkeley.
Hal Reynolds, a UC-Berkeley official who monitors possible cult activities on campus, attended the event but left early, saying the remnants of the group appeared to pose very little threat to Berkeley students.
"There's really not much going with this group.... It's very boring and not very convincing," Reynolds told reporters.
Original file name: CNI - HGate.Away Team
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