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Mother of one Heaven’s Gate victim says she is not mad at the cult

April 5, 1997

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) _ A former Heaven’s Gate ``grandma″ whose daughter died in last month’s mass suicide still finds reason to defend the close-knit cult.

``Why do they distort? He was such a kind and wonderful man,″ Lorraine Wilber said of Marshall Applewhite, the group’s leader.

Ms. Wilber, 78, said she kept in touch with the group almost until the end and was surprised, but not shocked, by the suicides.

Days before the 39 members were found dead at a Rancho Santa Fe mansion, she received a farewell video in which her daughter, Judi Rowland, listed among the dead as Judith, talked cheerfully of going to ``the next level.″

``Of course I am sad to lose my daughter,″ she said. ``But I look up to her like an angel. She gave up the world.″

An interview with Ms. Wilber, a former California resident now living in Rolla, Mo., was published Saturday in the Ventura County Star.

She claimed to have helped found the Heaven’s Gate group in early 1975 and believes she still is in communication with Applewhite, who was known as Do, and Bonnie Nettles, known as Ti, who died in the 1980s.

``I feel privileged to have known ...,″ she said, freezing in midsentence. ``Ti? Ti? What is it?″

Ms. Wilber said Ti frequently talks to her and recently appeared in the form of a chirping bird at her window.

Ms. Wilber was unclear about how she met Applewhite and Nettles, but said she helped them map out recruiting strategies and a philosophy for the group over her kitchen table in Camarillo, Calif.

Ms. Wilber said she left her husband and two young children to travel with the ``fellowship″ _ she dislikes the term cult.

Ms. Wilber said she left the group in 1980 because of health problems, returning to a farm near her hometown of Rolla and later marrying a childhood pal.

The farm was a place where traveling Heaven’s Gate members could show up to get a bed, a meal and a tank of gasoline. Ms. Wilber said she kept a stack of $100 bills to pass out to followers. About 20 members, including her daughter, visited last December, she said.

``I was like grandma to everyone,″ she said.

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