Former Heaven's Gate Cult Member Reveals She 'Never Stepped Foot Out the Door' in New Interview

Diane Sawyer revisits the Heaven's Gate suicides 25 years later in a new two-hour special of 20/20 airing Friday

People Magazine/March 11, 2022

The 20th-century religious group known as Heaven's Gate first captured the nation's attention in 1975, when a group of 20 people mysteriously vanished from a motel hall in Waldport, Ore.

Among the group were individuals with families, careers and military service, begging the question: Where did they go, and why did they disappear?

Little would be known until 1997, when 39 people in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., took part in what remains the largest mass suicide in the United States. Writings left behind by the monastic group, considered a cult by experts, explained the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet meant the end of humanity, and a spaceship would carry them to a higher level of existence for all eternity.

The Heaven's Gate website, which still blinks "RED ALERT" in bright red font on a page that awakens memories of the early internet, is a digital landmark of the reclusive group who obeyed their leaders, Ti and Do.

"Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion — 'graduation' from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave 'this world' and go with Ti's crew," the page reads.

ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer and her team revisit the case in a new two-hour special edition of 20/20, "The Cult Next Door: The Mystery and Madness of Heaven's Gate," airing Friday, March 11. The special probes the secrets and backstory of Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, known as Ti and Do to their devotees, and the rigid world they created for their followers.

Sawyer conducted an exclusive interview in 1997 with Rio DiAngelo, a member who exited the group prior to the suicides to serve as "a messenger to the world." More than two decades later, she sits down with him again, along with other former members and loved ones of followers who perished in the suicides.

"My guess is three-quarters of the people never stepped foot out the door, and I was one of them," Jana Gibbons, a former Heaven's Gate member, tells Sawyer during an exclusive look inside the Southern California mansion where the cult leaders and followers poisoned themselves with the toxin phenobarbital.

"There probably wasn't even any open windows," Gibbons added. She joined Heaven's Gate when she was just 16, the group's youngest recruit.

The special features exclusive never-before-seen tapes and intimate audio recordings of Applewhite, his followers and authorities who worked on the grisly case, as well as insight from cult experts.

"Once you've already alienated yourself from everyone, it becomes very hard to go back to your old community," says Vidhya Ramalingam, founder and CEO of Moonshot, in the exclusive clip below. 

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