Up to 470 May Have Died in Fire

Police Say As Many As 470 Followers of a Ugandan Doomsday Cult May Have Died in Fire in Apparent Mass Suicide

The Associated Press, March 19, 2000
By Paul Busharizi

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - Two days after an apparent mass suicide in a remote part of southwest Uganda, a police spokesman said Sunday that up to 470 cult members may have died in the fire.

"The scene is horror," spokesman Asuman Mugenyi told The Associated Press after visiting the site of the fire. "It is only about two or three bodies which you can say that these are men or women. The rest of the bodies are beyond human shape."

The fire Friday burned through a church in the small town of Kanungu, some 217 miles southwest of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, according to deputy police spokesman Eric Naigambi. The doors and windows of the church were nailed shut, he said.

Mugenyi said the adults who died would be treated as suicide victims but the deaths of those under 18 years old would be regarded as murder.

He said it was impossible to identify bodies at the scene but the number of dead was likely to be double the 235 reported earlier.

Doctors began autopsies Sunday and forensic experts were expected to arrive from Kampala the same day. Naigambi said it would take at least a week to know the exact number of people who died.

"We don't know who was inside or outside," he said. "Relatives of people said to have burned keep on telling us that their relatives are nowhere to be seen, and yet we have not proved their identities."

The cult, the Movement for the Restoration of Ten Commandments of God, was regarded as peaceful, Naigambi said.

Local residents told the paper the cult members had a party on Wednesday at which they consumed 70 crates of soda and three bulls. The next day, they gathered personal belongings including clothing, money, suitcases and church materials and set them on fire, the paper reported.

On Thursday, cult members went around nearby villages bidding farewell to neighbors, witnesses told the Sunday Vision.

"They were aware they would die on March 17 because the Virgin Mary had promised to appear at the camp during the morning hours to carry them to heaven," Anastasia Komuhanti told the paper.

It was unclear whether sect leader Joseph Kibweteere died in the fire. He had predicted the world would end Dec. 31 but changed it to Dec. 31, 2000, after nothing happened, said the independent newspaper The Monitor in its Sunday edition.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.