Jonestown Massacre: Survivors Wrestle With Guilt, Shame


Ryan toured the compound, then returned with a handful of defectors to the Port Kaituma airstrip, where he and four others were ambushed by Jones' guards.

Back at the compound, Jones convinced followers that Ryan's death was imminent and the church would "fall into the hands of the enemy."

The FBI transcript of the death tape shows that one woman, Christine Miller, argued with Jones, but others shouted her down. Babies cried in the background, as a Jones supporter said: "Calm the children ... something to give them a little rest, a little rest. Calm the children."

Jones tried to quiet the crowd: "So my opinion is that we be kind to children and be kind to seniors and take the potion like they used to take in ancient Greece, and step over quietly because we are not committing suicide. It's a revolutionary act. We can't go back. They won't leave us alone."

In the end, 909 were either injected with or drank potassium cyanide mixed into a vat of punch and tranquilizers. Babies had poison squirted in their mouths with syringes.

Bodies were found strewn in an orderly fashion around the compound. Many had injection marks in the face and forehead.

Others were shot by security guards. Jones had a bullet to the head, but no one knows whether it was suicide or murder.

Wilson's husband was found on a bed face-up back at the compound. "We don't know what killed him," she said.

Wilson and others attend annual memorial services at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, where 407 Jonestown victims, mostly children, are buried in a mass grave.

The bodies were so badly decomposed when they arrived at Dover Air Force base in 1978 that they could not be identified. It was the only cemetery to accept the unidentified remains of Jonestown victims.

"People were afraid of contagions from the decomposing bodies and the impurity of the cult, believing they died a shameful death," Moore said.

But on May 29, 2011, an estimated 150 survivors and relatives dedicated a monument to those who died. An interfaith group erected four granite plaques with the names of all 918 who died. Though controversial, the names of both Jones and Ryan appear on the list.

The Jonestown memorial is at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, Calif.

The day was cathartic, a "turning point" for survivors and families of those who died, according to Moore.

"The names of the people who died in the Twin Towers were read immediately, but it took 33 years for the Peoples Temple to get this public memorial," she said.

Wilson, now working in health care and the mother of three adult children, said she hopes each anniversary is a reminder to those who are too young to remember Jonestown to take heed.

"We don't want to see it repeated," she said.

But she understands the emotional draw of a Jonestown: "People want be loved," she said. "And taken care of."

Now wary of organized religion, she finds solace in her faith: "I have found a higher power."

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