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In this story, all roads lead to the Net

March 28, 1997

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ When word came down about the bodies in Rancho Sante Fe, the media raced to the scene. But as more facts became available, they found themselves scrambling in a different medium, as clues began to surface in the confusing realm of the Internet.

Web masters, programmers and stray staffers with Internet expertise were pulled in to try to find web sites linked to the computer-savvy cult members, while others consulted archives of Net postings and tried _ often in vain _ to access the information.

The group made money with a web design firm called Higher Source and proselytized through a web site called Heaven’s Gate.

The minute the Heaven’s Gate Web address was read over the air on the ``Today″ show Thursday morning, the Minneapolis-based Internet service that hosted it nearly crashed.

``The general public was flooding our net with millions of hits and knocking off the rest of our customers. We pulled (the site) off temporarily. We’ll put it back when the fanfare dies down,″ said Ed Deppe, chief operating officer of SpaceStar Communications.

Heaven’s Gate Web site lists its mailing address as TELAH Services and a box at a PostNet store in northeast Phoenix. The owner said Thursday he wasn’t aware of the group or who was renting the box.

And Deppe had no idea why Heaven’s Gate, based in southern California, chose a Minneapolis company to provide an Internet connection.

``Maybe our name, SpaceStar. Maybe we should call ourselves Hale-Bopp Star,″ he said in a bemused tone, alluding to the cult’s belief that members would be taken in a space ship that was hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

The cult members’ bodies were found in a computer-filled mansion in Rancho Santa Fe alongside suitcases packed for the rendezvous.

And according to programmers, their talents at web design weren’t much more sophisticated than their knowledge of space travel.

``They weren’t very good web designers. I don’t know what kind of money they were making. They have white outlines on the edges of the text that kind of mooshes it against the background,″ said Kevin Rardin, a technical communications expert based in Mountain View, Calif.

Morgan Davis, operations director of CTS Network Service, one of San Diego’s largest Internet providers, agreed.

``They’re rather mediocre. ... Their art work is kind of amateurish. The layout and typesetting is not cutting-edge. It really looks like anything anyone could have done in their spare time.″

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