Aerial view of the Jonestown mass suicide victims.

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


Mass suicide sometimes occurs in religious settings. In war, 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.[1]

Attitudes towards mass suicide change according to place and circumstance. People who resort to mass suicide rather than submit to what they consider intolerable oppression sometimes become the focus of a heroic myth.[2] 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

The self-immolation (jauhar) of the Hindu women, during the Siege of Chittorgarh in 1568

Religiously motivated suicides

Known mass suicides

Bekeranta (1840s)

In the 19th century British Guiana, Awakaipu, an Arekuna shaman, established a settlement of indigenous tribesmen called Bekeranta (Berbice Creole Dutch, meaning "Land of the White People") at the base of Kukenán-tepui. In approximately 1843 or 1844, Awakaipu instructed his followers to violently murder each other in order to reincarnate themselves as white people. Unofficial figures put the death toll at around 400, which included men, women, and children.[18][19]

Yogmaya's Jal Samadhi (1941)

Yogmaya Neupane and her group of 67 disciples committed the biggest mass suicide (Jal-Samadhi) in Nepali history, by jumping into the Arun River (China–Nepal) in 1941.[20]

Peoples Temple (1978)

Main article: Jonestown

Pictures of those who died in Jonestown

On November 18, 1978, 918 Americans, including 276 children, died in Peoples Temple–related incidents, including 909 members of the Temple, led by Jim Jones, in Jonestown, Guyana.[21] 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.[22]

On that tape, Jones tells Temple members that the Soviet Union, 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.[22] 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."[22] 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."[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

Solar Temple (1994–1997)

Main article: Order of the Solar Temple

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.[26][27][28][29][30]

Heaven's Gate (1997)

Main article: Heaven's Gate (religious group)

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.[31] Some male members of the group underwent voluntary castration in preparation for the genderless life they believed awaited them after the suicide.[32]

In May 1997, two ex-members of Heaven's Gate, who had not been present for the mass suicide, attempted suicide, one succeeding, the other becoming comatose for two days and then recovering.[33] In February 1998, the survivor, Chuck Humphrey, died by suicide.[34]

Béchard Lane Eckankar (2004)

In August 2004, ten dead bodies were discovered, all in a sleeping position, inside a two-story house located at Béchard Lane in the suburb of Saint Paul, Vacoas-Phoenix on the island of Mauritius. They had been missing for a number of days, and large loans had been contracted by some of the victims a short time before their deaths. Several of them were active members of the Eckankar sect. The main gate and all doors of the house had been locked from the inside, and the interior was in tidy order when police broke into the house.[35][36][37]

Adam House (2007)

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.[38][39] Diaries recovered from the victims' home, the "Adam House", related they wanted a pure life as lived by Adam and Eve, freeing themselves from bondage to any religion, and refusing contact with any outsiders.[39] After leaving Islam, they fell out of boundaries of any particular religion.[39]

Burari Deaths (2018)

Main article: Burari deaths

The Burari deaths, also "Burari case" and "Burari kaand", refers to the deaths of eleven family members of the Chundawat family from Burari, India, in 2018. Ten family members were found hanged, while the oldest family member, the grandmother, was strangled. The bodies were found on 1 July 2018; in the early morning after the death. The police have ruled the deaths as mass suicide, with an angle of shared psychosis being investigated.

Shakahola Massacre (2023)

Main article: Shakahola Forest incident

See also: Forced suicide

In April 2023, 110 dead bodies were found in the Shakahola forest, near Malindi, Kenya.[40] Rescued survivors stated that they had been ordered to starve themselves to death by Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, leader of the Malindi cult. As of July 2023, the death toll has risen to over 400.[41][42]

Disputed religiously motivated suicides

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

Main article: 2000 Uganda mass death

On March 17, 2000, 778 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in Uganda.[43] 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.[44] The group had diverged from the Roman Catholic Church in order to emphasize apocalypticism and alleged Marian apparitions.[45] The group had been called an inward-looking movement, that wore matching uniforms, and restricted their speech to avoid saying anything dishonest or sinful.[46] On the suicide itself, locals said they held a party, at which 70 crates of soft drinks and three bulls were consumed.[47] This version of events has been criticized, most notably by Irving Hexham,[48] and a Ugandan source states that even today, "no one can really explain the whys, hows, whats, where, when, etc."[49]

Training centre for release of the Atma-energy

Main article: Training centre for release of the Atma-energy

Training centre for release of the Atma-energy was 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.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ "Holology: Mass Suicide". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2005-03-18.
  2. ^ "Masada: A heroic last stand against Rome".
  3. ^ Arnold, Thomas (1846). The History of Rome: From the Gaulish invasion to the end of the Second Punic War. D. Appleton & Company. p. 471.
  4. ^ Lucius Annaeus Florus, Epitome 1.38.16–17 and Valerius Maximus, Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium 6.1.ext.3
  5. ^ Grout, James. "The Celtiberian War and Numantia". Encyclopedia Romana. Retrieved 2022-06-18.
  6. ^ Masada and the first Jewish revolt against Rome Archived 2009-10-16 at the Wayback Machine: Near East Tourist Industry, Steven Langfur 2003
  7. ^ Shaye J.D. Cohen (2010). The significance of Yavneh and other essays in Jewish Hellenism. p. 143. ISBN 978-3161503757.
  8. ^ Zuleika Rodgers, ed. (2007). Making History: Josephus And Historical Method. BRILL. p. 397. ISBN 978-9004150089.
  9. ^ Rajasthan: Monique Choy, Sarina Singh p. 231 ISBN 1740593634, Lonely Planet Publications, 2002 [1]
  10. ^ GEDIMINO LAIŠKAI: The Letters of Gediminas, the Great Duke of Lithuania (c. 1275–1341)
  11. ^ Coleman, Loren (2004). The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines. New York: Paraview Pocket-Simon and Schuster. p. 46. ISBN 978-0743482233.
  12. ^ accessed 27 June 2012
  13. ^ Moitt, Bernard (1996). David Barry Gaspar (ed.). Slave women and Resistance in the French Caribbean. p. 243. ISBN 978-0253330178. ((cite book)): |journal= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Memorials and Other Papers: Thomas de Quincey, ISBN 0140430156
  15. ^ "Suicides: Nazis go down to defeat in a wave of selbstmord". Life Magazine, 14 May 1945. Accessed 10 April 2011.
  16. ^ Lakotta, Beate (2005-03-05). "Tief vergraben, nicht dran rühren". Der Spiegel (in German). SPON. Archived from the original on 2020-04-17. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  17. ^ Pringle, Robert (2004). Bali: Indonesia's Hindu Realm; A short history of. Short History of Asia Series. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1865088631.
  18. ^ [ Jonestown echoed in past times in Guyana: An 1840s mass suicide remembered]. Polick, Paul. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple. 25 July 2013. Retrieved 26 August 2022.
  19. ^ The Marches of El Dorado. Swan, Michael. Penguin Books, 1961.
  20. ^ "Nepal: Yogmaya Neupane: Nepal's First Female Revolutionary". PeaceWomen. 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2022-05-04.
  21. ^ Foreword, The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy Archived 2010-12-31 at the Wayback Machine, excerpt from: Report of a Staff Investigative Group to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, May 15, 1979
  22. ^ a b c d "Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project." Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. San Diego State University.
  23. ^ Guyana Inquest of Cyrill Mootoo & Cecil Roberts
  24. ^ Layton, Deborah. (1998) Seductive Poison. Anchor, 1999. ISBN 0385489846.
  25. ^ "The Death of Michael Prokes – Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple".
  26. ^ The Solar Temple, Religious, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  27. ^ Sloan, Jennifer (1999). "Order of the Solar Temple". University of Virginia. Archived from the original on 17 October 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  28. ^ The Tragedy Of The Solar Temple Cult Archived 2017-09-06 at the Wayback Machine Stephen Dafoe & Templar History Magazine, 2002, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  29. ^ Solar Temple: A cult gone wrong, CBC News, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  30. ^ Katherine Ramsland, Death Journey[permanent dead link], Crime Library, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  31. ^ Jonathan Broder, Suicide in San Diego – Were cultists recruited on the Web?, Salon/March 28, 1997
  32. ^ "Some members of suicide cult castrated", CNN, March 28, 1997
  33. ^ "Two More Search For Heaven's Gate", The Associated Press, May 6, 1997
  34. ^ "Ex-Heaven's Gate member is found dead", Associated Press, February 21, 1998
  35. ^ Coosnapen, Michëlla. "10 cadavres bouleversent le pays". 5 Plus. Retrieved 2004-08-30.
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  37. ^ "Le mystère de Béchard Lane 10 ans après". Le Mauricien. 16 August 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-16.
  38. ^ Selim, Nasima (2010). "An extraordinary truth? The Ādam "suicide" notes from Bangladesh". Mental Health, Religion & Culture. 13 (3): 223–244. doi:10.1080/13674670903061230. S2CID 145789923.
  39. ^ a b c "Mymensingh joint suicide defies common sense". No. 1. 12 July 2007. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  40. ^ Kithi, Marion (April 28, 2023). "360 people reported missing as heavy rains disrupt Shakahola operation". The Standard. Archived from the original on April 28, 2023. Retrieved April 30, 2023.
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  49. ^ Gerald Businge, Seven Years Since the Kanungu Massacre – Are we any wiser?, UG Pulse, March 17, 2007