Losses Linger 25 Years After Jonestown

ByABC News via logo
November 17, 2003, 7:48 PM

O A K L A N D, Calif., Nov. 18 -- It has been 25 years since the followers of the Rev. Jim Jones passed cyanide-laced grape drink around to his cult followers as part of a mass suicide-murder that left more than 900 people dead in Jonestown, Guyana.

An annual memorial service will be held today at a mass grave in Oakland, Calif., where more than 400 of the victims are buried.

Jonestown survivors say the years since the Nov. 18, 1978, massacre have done little to ease the senselessness of the tragedy.

"We were as diverse a group of people as you'll ever encounter," said survivor Stephen Jones, son of former cult leader the Rev. Jim Jones. "We were loving, passionate people. And those people shouldn't have died."

Peoples Temple

The leader of the Jonestown cult, the Rev. Jim Jones, preached racial equality and integration, and led programs to help drug addicts and the elderly after moving his People's Temple Full Gospel Church from Indianapolis, Ind., to San Francisco, Calif., in 1970.

His work, and his commanding presence, drew followers, and some powerful political allies, but there were also whispers about abuse, threats and fraud at his temple. When a magazine published an exposé about the temple, Jones and his followers packed up in 1978 and moved to the jungles of Guyana in South America.

Grace Stoen, a former member of the People's Temple, said she and others who had separated from the group tried to get involved in what they suspected was happening in Jonestown, Guyana.

"We were trying to let the government know that people were being held against their will," Stoen said

One man who listened to Stoen's warnings, California Congressman Leo Ryan, opened an inquiry into allegations of torture and sexual abuse within the People's Temple.

In November of 1978, Ryan, concerned family members, a small team of reporters and congressional aide Jackie Speier headed to Jonestown.

Speier said she expected they would make some troubling discoveries, but she never expected they would be in immediate danger.