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Silent Apocalypse of a Ugandan Cult

By Karl Vick

Monday, March 20, 2000; Page A01

KANUNGU, Uganda, March 19 –– Before the bell rang summoning them to the long, low building where more than 300 of them would die, members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God gave no clue that the apocalypse they had so long predicted was in its final countdown.

Devotees moved about the tidy hillside compound cloaked in the clothes--green robes trimmed in white--and the almost total silence that area residents had come to associate with the peculiar band. The work they put into new construction signaled an investment in the future at odds with the leader's prediction that the world would end in 2000. A new sanctuary had been built. There were stated plans to buy a generator.

That, neighbors were told, was why they were buying so much gasoline.

The truth exploded Friday morning, in a fireball that brought much of the nearby farming village of Kanungu scrambling to the scene of what could be the largest mass suicide since 1978, when 914 people died by drinking a cyanide-laced fruit drink in Jonestown, Guyana. Members of the Ugandan doomsday cult had barricaded themselves in a former dormitory and, after singing and chanting, heard a final prayer.

Then a match was struck.

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