Which famous cult leader’s ashes were spread at White Rock Lake?

Our neighborhood waterway’s striking vistas make it a desirable place to spread a loved one’s ashes, and a new podcast reveals that the lake contains those of the former leader of one of our nation’s most famous cults.

Bonnie Nettles founded Heaven’s Gate, the group that committed mass suicide in a San Diego mansion in 1997. At her request, her ashes were spread over White Rock Lake. The story of the group, including extensive interview with Nettles daughter, Terrie, who lives near White Rock Lake and spread her mother’s ashes there, can be found on the podcast “Heaven’s Gate.”

Nettles led the group, which combined aspects of Christianity with beliefs about extraterrestrials, from 1974 until her death in 1985. Nettles went from being a registered nurse to religious leader when she met Marshall Applewhite, a former professor at St. Thomas University in Houston. Nettles served as the group’s mystic and connection to the divine.

Together they founded Heaven’s Gate, and were called Ti and Do by their followers. Applewhite believed he was a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, and the group produced materials that described the reincarnation of Jesus as a Texan. The group believed they would be killed, restored to life and transported to an alien spaceship.

Nettles died in from liver cancer at Parkland Hospital, using the pseudonym Shelley West. Nettles lost an eye due to the cancer, but believed that she wouldn’t die but would ascend with Applewhite into what the group called “The Next Level.”

After Nettles death, the group continued to grow and recruit members using the Internet, eventually moving into a rented San Diego mansion they called The Monastery. The group believed that a spaceship was trailing behind the comet Hale-Bop, and Applewhite spoke about how suicide would allow the group to board the vessel. On March 26, 1997, authorities discovered 39 bodies in the mansion, many of which had begun to decompose.

The members killed themselves with a seizure medication called Phenobarbital, apple sauce and vodka while securing plastic bags around their heads to induce suffocation. They were found laying face-up in their beds with matching black shirts, sweat pants, Nike Decades shoes and armband patches reading “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.” The bodies were also covered with a small purple cloth. The members ranged in age from 26 to 72, and are believed to have committed suicide in three groups in as many days, with remaining participants tidying up after the previous group’s deaths.


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