In March of 2000, a fringe sect of Catholicism known as The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God began slaughtering cattle and buying up all the Coca-Cola they could get their hands on. The Ugandan doomsday cult had been preparing for a feast – a celebration of life, as well as their preparation for entering into the great beyond. That night the group perished in a great fire. Some say it was mass suicide, others believe it was mass murder.
The group formed sometime in the late 1980s. Joseph Kibweteere was a Ugandan politician who held strong ties to the Catholic Church in the area. A former prostitute turned banana beer brewer named Credonia Mwerinde came to Kibweteere and told him that she had been seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. The Vatican dismissed Kibweteere’s claims, but Mwerinde took her under his wing and The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was born.
Some of the core beliefs of the group, aside from the teachings of the bible according to the Catholic faith, was that Armageddon was coming. They described their group as a “Noah’s Ark” when asked about their beliefs, and claimed that when the end times drew near, people would travel for miles to seek sanctuary with them. At its peak, the group managed to recruit 4,000 followers, which included disgraced Catholic Priests and other clergymen from the area.
To locals who had interacted with the group, they seemed friendly enough and never seemed to bother anyone. This impression began to shift sometime in 1998.
The group was known to keep to themselves and were self-sufficient, running their own schools and members working together to better the community. Reporters who were curious about the group found that there had been many things going on behind closed doors. Most of the group’s members, including children, had been suffering from malnutrition. The group had also been using child labor and it is believed that they may have been kidnapping children from the streets to work for them. The group was believed to have been shut down, but this assumption would later prove to be false.
According to the group’s interpretation of biblical scripture, they believed that the year 2000 would mark the beginning of the “new world,” in which the old world would end and the kingdom of God would begin. When this prophecy failed to emerge on January 1, 2000, many group members began to question the authority of group leaders.
This threw the group into turmoil and membership numbers decreased dramatically, with many members demanding their donation money back. In an effort to save face, a second date for the end of the world was picked. This time it was set to occur on March 17, 2000.
When March 17 rolled around, the day was spent in the church singing and celebrating, followed by a great feast, then back to the church for further prayer and singing. It was during this final round of song and prayer that nearby villagers heard explosions coming from the area. The church had been engulfed in flames. The windows and doors had been boarded up. It was later learned that 530 members of the group, including dozens of children, had died in the blaze.
In addition to the casualties who died in the fire, several mass graves were later uncovered with hundreds of bodies. Many had been hacked to death, poisoned or strangled. It is unclear who within the church ranks had killed these people.
Days before the fire, Dominic Kataribabo, another leader in the group, was seen purchasing large amounts of sulfuric acid. It is believed this was used in order to ignite the fire after he and other church leaders boarded up the doors and windows to prevent anyone inside from escaping. Initially, it was believed that Joseph Kibweteere and other heads of the church had also died in the fire, but sightings of Kibweteere after the fire have led some to believe that he is still alive and living under an assumed name.