Deadliest cult disasters

After the death toll in a Kenyan cult massacre in which members were believed to have starved crossed 400, we look at other notorious killer sects.

(FILES) Digged holes are seen after exhuming bodies at the mass-grave site in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi, on April 25, 2023. – The death toll in an investigation linked to a Kenyan cult that practised starvation to “meet Jesus Christ” has exceeded 400 after 12 new bodies were found on July 17, 2023, a senior official said. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

After the death toll in a Kenyan cult massacre in which members were believed to have starved crossed 400, we look at other notorious killer sects.

– 914 dead, Guyana jungle apocalypse –

In one of the most dramatic mass murder-suicides of modern history, 914 adults and children from a US cult died in the jungle of the small South American country of Guyana on November 18, 1978.

They were led to their deaths by charismatic US preacher Jim Jones who coerced members of his Peoples Temple sect into carrying out “revolutionary suicide”. Parents were urged to give their children poison, while others were shot trying to flee or forced to drink the deadly liquid.

Jones, who had moved his followers to Guyana from San Francisco to avoid a crackdown by US authorities, was found dead with a gunshot to the head. It was never determined if he had died by suicide or was shot.

– Over 700 dead in Uganda –

Another of the world’s worst cult-related massacres took place in southwestern Uganda’s Kanungu district in 2000 where some 700 members from the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God burned to death.

Members of the cult, which believed the world would come to an end at the turn of the millennium, had been locked inside a church, with the doors and windows nailed shut from the outside.

The building was then set alight.

The cult leaders, who were suspected of their deaths, were never found.

– Waco siege: nearly 80 dead –

In 1993, 76 members of a sect in Waco, Texas, including 20 children died in a blaze at their wooden fortress when it was stormed by federal agents after a 51-day siege.

David Koresh, the charismatic leader of the Branch Davidian cult — which broke away from the Seventh Day Adventist Church — died along with many of his followers.

US authorities had accused the group of stockpiling weapons and obtained an arrest warrant for Koresh and a search warrant for the compound, resulting in the tense standoff.

– 1994: Solar Temple –

The bodies of 48 members of the doomsday Solar Temple sect, including its leaders, were discovered in the Swiss villages of Cheiry and Granges-sur-Salvan in October 1994.

In total, over 70 members of the sect founded by a homeopathic healer died, including 10  living in the Canadian province of Quebec and 16 whose charred bodies were found in the Vercors mountains of southeast France.

Notes left behind suggested a mass suicide, but investigators said as many as two thirds of the dead could have been murdered.

– Heaven’s Gate poisoning –

In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult in San Diego, California, committed mass suicide by poisoning to coincide with the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet, considering this a signal for their exit from Earth.

The dead included cult co-founder Marshall Applewhite.

Bonnie Nettles, the other founder of the sect which believed members could transform themselves into immortal extra-terrestrials by rejecting their human nature, died of cancer in 1985.

– Japan’s sarin gas attack –

Doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo was behind a notorious attack in Japan in 1995, when members released toxic sarin gas into Tokyo’s subway network, killing 13 people and sickening thousands of others.

The chemical was released in liquid form at five locations during rush hour, causing commuters to stagger from trains struggling to breathe.

At the cult’s headquarters near Mount Fuji authorities found a plant capable of producing enough sarin to kill millions.

Thirteen Aum members, including leader Shoko Asahara, were executed for the attack.


© Agence France-Presse

In this article

East Africa Premier News Source with Top Stories, Special Features and more.
Uncensored & Undaunted