Mass suicide

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Mass suicide is a form of suicide, occurring when a group of people simultaneously kill themselves.



Mass suicide sometimes occurs in religious settings. Defeated groups may resort to mass suicide rather than being captured. Suicide pacts are a form of mass suicide that are sometimes planned or carried out by small groups of depressed or hopeless people. Mass suicides have been used as a form of political protest, which shows that they can also be used as a statement making tool. [1]

Attitudes to mass suicide change according to place and circumstance. People who resort to mass suicide rather than submit to what they consider an intolerable oppression sometimes become the focus of a heroic myth. Such mass suicides might also win the grudging respect of the victors. On the other hand, the act of people resorting to mass suicide without being threatened - especially, when driven to this step by a charismatic religious leader, for reasons which often seem obscure - tends to be regarded far more negatively.

Historical mass suicides

Religiously motivated suicides

Known suicides

Peoples Temple (1978)

On November 18, 1978, 918 Americans died in Peoples Temple–related incidents, including 909 members of the Temple, led by Jim Jones, in Jonestown, Guyana. [15] The dead included 276 children. A tape of the Temple's final meeting in a Jonestown pavilion contains repeated discussions of the group committing "revolutionary suicide", including reference to people taking the poison and the vats to be used. [16]

On that tape, Jones tells Temple members that Russia, with whom the Temple had been negotiating a potential exodus for months, would not take them after the Temple had murdered Member of Congress Leo Ryan, NBC reporter Don Harris and three others at a nearby airstrip. [16] When members apparently cried, Jones counseled "Stop this hysterics. This is not the way for people who are Socialists or Communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity." [16] At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: "We didn't commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world." [16]

The people in Jonestown died of an apparent cyanide poisoning, except for Jones (who died of an injury consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound) and his personal nurse. [17] The Temple had spoken of committing "revolutionary suicide" in prior instances, and members had previously drunk what Jones told them was poison at least once before, but the "Flavor Aid" drink they ingested at that time contained no poison. [18] Concurrently, four other members died in the Temple's headquarters in Georgetown. Four months later, Michael Prokes, one of the initial survivors, also committed suicide. [19]

Solar Temple (1994–97)

From 1994 to 1997, the Order of the Solar Temple's members began a series of mass suicides, which led to roughly 74 deaths. Farewell letters were left by members, stating that they believed their deaths would be an escape from the "hypocrisies and oppression of this world". Added to this they felt they were "moving on to Sirius". Records seized by the Quebec police showed that some members had personally donated over $1 million to the group's leader, Joseph Di Mambro.

There was also another attempted mass suicide of the remaining members, which was thwarted in the late 1990s. All the suicide/murders and attempts occurred around the dates of the equinoxes and solstices, which likely held some relation to the beliefs of the group. [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]

Heaven's Gate (1997)

From March 24 to 27, 1997, 39 followers of Heaven's Gate died in a mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California, which borders San Diego to the north. These people believed, according to the teachings of their group, that through their suicides they were "exiting their human vessels" so that their souls could go on a journey aboard a spaceship they believed to be following comet Hale–Bopp. [25] Some male members of the group underwent voluntary castration in preparation for the genderless life they believed awaited them after the suicide. [26]

In May 1997, two Heaven's Gate members who had not been present for the mass suicide attempted suicide, one succeeding, the other becoming comatose for two days and then recovering. [27] In February 1998, the survivor, Chuck Humphrey, committed suicide. [28]

Adam House

In 2007, in Mymensingh, Bangladesh, a family of nine, all members of a novel "Adam's cult", committed mass suicide by hurling themselves under a train. [29] [30] Although the Daily Mail initially reported that they were victimized for converting to Christianity, [31] diaries recovered from the victims' home, "Adam House", related they wanted a pure life as lived by Adam and Eve, freeing themselves from bondage to any religion and refused contact with any outsiders. [30] After leaving Islam, they did not partake in Christian ceremonies and they even used to worship Kali sometimes, practically out of boundaries of any particular religion. [30]

Disputed religiously motivated suicides

Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (2000)

On March 17, 2000, 778 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in Uganda. [32] The theory that all of the members died in a mass suicide was changed to mass murder when decomposing bodies were discovered in pits with signs of strangulation while others had stab wounds. [33] The group had diverged from the Roman Catholic Church in order to emphasize apocalypticism and alleged Marian apparitions. [34] The group had been called an inward-looking movement that wore matching uniforms and restricted their speech to avoid saying anything dishonest or sinful. [35] [36] On the suicide itself locals said they held a party at which 70 crates of soft drinks and three bulls were consumed. [37] This version of events has been criticized, most notably by Irving Hexham, [38] and a Ugandan source states that even today "no one can really explain the whys, hows, whats, where, when, etcetera." [39]

Training centre for release of the Atma-energy

This sect was originally a splinter group of the Brahma Kumaris [40] and is known for a police and media scare in which an alleged attempt to commit ritual suicide took place in Teide National Park in Tenerife in 1998.

See also

Related Research Articles

Mass murder act of murdering a large number of people

Mass murder is the act of murdering a number of people, typically simultaneously or over a relatively short period of time and in close geographic proximity. The FBI defines mass murder as murdering four or more people during an event with no "cooling-off period" between the murders. A mass murder typically occurs in a single location where one or more people kill several others.

Peoples Temple defunct new religious movement founded in 1955

The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, commonly shortened to Peoples Temple, was an American new religious movement founded in 1955 by Jim Jones in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jones used the Peoples Temple to spread a message that combined elements of Christianity with communist and socialist ideology, with an emphasis on racial equality.

Jonestown former community established by the Peoples Temple, known for a mass death event on November 18, 1978

The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, better known by its informal name "Jonestown", was a remote settlement established by the Peoples Temple, a cult under the leadership of Jim Jones, in northwestern Guyana. It became internationally known when, on November 18, 1978, a total of 918 people died in the settlement, at the nearby airstrip in Port Kaituma, and at a Temple-run building in Georgetown, Guyana's capital city. The name of the settlement became synonymous with the incidents at those locations.

Jim Jones American cult leader

James Warren Jones was an American civil rights preacher, faith healer and cult leader who conspired with his inner circle to direct a mass murder-suicide of his followers in his jungle commune at Jonestown, Guyana. He launched the Peoples Temple in Indiana during the 1950s. Rev. Jones was ordained in 1956 by the Independent Assemblies of God and in 1964 by the Disciples of Christ. He moved his congregation to California in 1965 and gained notoriety with its activities in San Francisco in the 1970s. He then left the United States, bringing many members to a Guyana jungle commune.

Order of the Solar Temple French apocalyptic cult

The Order of the Solar Temple, also known as Ordre du Temple Solaire (OTS) in French and the International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition, or simply as The Solar Temple, is a cult and religious sect that claims to be based upon the ideals of the Knights Templar. OTS was started by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret in 1984 in Geneva as l'Ordre International Chevaleresque de Tradition Solaire (OICTS) and later renamed Ordre du Temple Solaire.

Leo Ryan American teacher and politician

Leo Joseph Ryan Jr. was an American teacher and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the U.S. Representative from California's 11th congressional district from 1973 until his assassination during the Jonestown massacre in 1978.

Balinese people Indonesian ethnic group

The Balinese people are an Austronesian ethnic group and nation native to the Indonesian island of Bali. The Balinese population of 4.2 million live mostly on the island of Bali, making up 89% of the island's population. There are also significant populations on the island of Lombok and in the easternmost regions of Java.

<i>Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple</i> 2006 film by Stanley Nelson Jr.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, is a 2006 documentary film made by Firelight Media, produced and directed by Stanley Nelson. The documentary reveals new footage of the incidents surrounding the Peoples Temple and its leader Jim Jones who led over 900 members of his religious group to a settlement in Guyana called Jonestown, where he orchestrated a mass suicide with poisoned Flavor Aid, in November 1978. It is in the form of a narrative with interviews with former Temple members, Jonestown survivors, and people who knew Jones.

<i>Seductive Poison</i> book by Deborah Layton

Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple is a first-hand account of the incidents surrounding Peoples Temple, written by survivor Deborah Layton, a high-level member of the Peoples Temple until her escape from the encampment. The first edition of the book was published by Anchor~Doubleday in hardcover on November 3, 1998, and the second edition was published in paperback on November 9, 1999. In 2014, Random House Audio made Seductive Poison into an audio-book read by the author and narrator, Kathe Mazur. Charles Krause, the young Washington Post journalist who accompanied Congressman Leo Ryan into Jonestown and was injured at the airstrip, reads his Foreword.

Jonestown conspiracy theories

The Jonestown conspiracy theories are conspiracy theories centering on the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project and the Jonestown massacre. Many proponents of such conspiracy theories contend that outside forces were involved in what occurred at the commune, including the massacre. These theories often include the assertion that the events in Jonestown represented CIA efforts in mind control or similar modes of social experimentation, often believed by proponents of such theories to be a covert example of Project MKUltra in practice.

Cyanide poisoning human disease

Cyanide poisoning is poisoning that results from exposure to a number of forms of cyanide. Early symptoms include headache, dizziness, fast heart rate, shortness of breath, and vomiting. This may then be followed by seizures, slow heart rate, low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and cardiac arrest. Onset of symptoms is usually within a few minutes. If a person survives, there may be long-term neurological problems.

Jonestown: Paradise Lost is a 2007 documentary television film on the History Channel about the final days of Jonestown, the Peoples Temple, and Jim Jones. From eyewitness and survivor accounts, the program recreates the last week before the mass murder-suicide on November 18, 1978.

Timothy Oliver Stoen is an American attorney best known for his central role as a member of the Peoples Temple, and as an opponent of the group during a multi-year custody battle over his six-year-old son, John. Stoen's battle led to an investigation of the Peoples Temple's settlement at Jonestown, Guyana, which became internationally notorious in 1978 after 918 people—including Stoen's son—died in the settlement and on a nearby airstrip. Stoen continues to work as a deputy district attorney in Mendocino County, California, where he is assigned to the District Attorney's Fort Bragg office.

Peoples Temple in San Francisco headquarters of the Peoples Temple

The Peoples Temple, the organization at the center of the Jonestown incident, was headquartered in San Francisco, California, from the early to mid-1970s until the Temple's move to Guyana.


Puputan is a Balinese term for a mass ritual suicide in preference to facing the humiliation of surrender. Notable puputans in the history of Bali occurred in 1906 and 1908, when the Balinese were being subjugated by the Dutch.

"Drinking the Kool-Aid" is an expression used to refer to a person who believes in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea because of perceived potential high rewards. The phrase often carries a negative connotation. It can also be used ironically or humorously to refer to accepting an idea or changing a preference due to popularity, peer pressure, or persuasion. In recent years it has evolved further to mean extreme dedication to a cause or purpose, so extreme that one would "Drink the Kool-Aid" and die for the cause.

Suicide in Guyana is a serious social problem, as Guyana is ranked first in suicides per capita worldwide among sovereign nations.

Suicide in Bangladesh is a common cause of unnatural death and a long term social issue. Of all the people reported dead due to suicide worldwide every year, 2.06% are Bangladeshi.

Training centre for release of the Atma-energy, also known as Atman Foundation, was a new religious movement active mainly on the island of Tenerife and in Germany. This sect was originally a splinter group of the Brahma Kumaris and is known for a police and media scare in which an alleged attempt to commit ritual suicide took place in Teide National Park in Tenerife.


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