Fears of Mass Suicide in Brazil as Doomsday Cult Barricades Itself Awaiting the End of the World Today
Brazilian police fear a mass suicide may take place later on Friday after more than 100 members of a doomsday cult barricaded themselves inside a house to await "the end of the world", which they believe will happen at 4pm local time (3pm ET).
Authorities believe that the members are preparing to kill themselves by drinking soup laced with poison after the group's leader, the "prophet" Luis Pereira dos Santos, convinced his followers that the Apocalypse would happen today.
Santos, 43, claims that an angel visited him four years ago and told him the exact time that the world was going to end.
Last month Santos convinced his 113 followers to leave their jobs, give away all their possessions, and take their children out of school.
Since then, the groto up has been holed up in a ten bedroom house that they call The Ark, which is located on the outskirts of Teresina, the capital of Brazil's northeastern state of Piaui.
On Thursday evening, 50 military policemen forced their way into the home and removed 19 babies and children after they received "credible" information that the group had planned to kill themselves by drinking poison. Police say that during the operation, a "significant quantity" of rat poison was found at the residence.
The children will be placed in care homes. Children's judge Maria Luiza de Moura issue the protection order that allowed the police to remove the children, and said:
"We believe that a mass suicide or murder may happen using a soup ingested by cult members. The adults are free to act of their free and spontaneous will, but we have to make sure that nothing happens to the children."
Santo's end of the world also happens to fall on a public holiday in Brazil, the feast day of the country's patron saint, Our Lady of Aparecida. Today is also national Children's Day in Brazil.
The largest cult suicide on record occurred in 1978, when People's Temple leader Jim Jones inspired 918 of his followers to kill themselves in Guyana by drinking cyanide. The Order of the Solar Temple sect began a series of mass suicides that occurred between 1994 and 1997 ad lead to around 74 deaths. In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult also died in a mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California, after believing that their souls would journey aboard a spaceship that they believed was following the Hale-Bopp comet.