Survivors Remember Peoples
From "Jonestown Survivors Haunted," By Marshall
Kilduff, San Francisco Chronicle, November 18, 1988.
Bay area survivors of the Peoples Temple met for the
first time since the disaster, at a picnic this September, and for most, the shattering
experience is embarrassing and wounding to recount.
"There were good things at the beginning, really there
were," said one former member. Nearly all have careers, lead separate lives, and
insist that the deaths of 913 relatives, close friends, and acquaintances no longer haunt
But it bothers them that outsiders think Jonestown was
nothing more than a freak show. "I turn on the TB and I see the Rajneesh people [and]
it all looks so familiar. Dont people learn?" says Grace Jones, an ex-member
(not related to Jim Jones) and suburban mother of two married to another ex-member.
"Almost a thousand people died, and no one gives a
damn about what happened." Said Dale Parks, whose mother was among five people killed
by temple gunmen, along with Rep. Leo J. Ryan, in the last hours before the suicides. Like
some others, he cut the interview short, saying, "Its a painful memory and
Im not interested in reliving it."
Debbie Layton, who fled Guyana two months before the end,
said: "I dont think about Jonestown all the time. Its in my past."
Her brother is serving a life term for conspiring to kill Rep. Ryan. "As time goes
on, you forget. You move on. Youve got to." She added that a newspaper
interview she gave on the subject left her sleepless and anxious for several days.
Unlike most other ex-members, former Peoples Temple
attorney Tim Stoen, who broke with Jim Jones before the removal to Guyana, where his own
son died, has spoken openly and at length, especially about the "good" side of
"You took a lot of very well-meaning people, and by
the end Jones had them killing children," said Robert Bryan, one of Larry
Laytons attorneys. "These people [the survivors] strike you as quiet and
composed, but inwardly they are upset," he said. "They have got to be thinking,
why wasnt I able to see it and stop it."
"Its as if they were scammed by a used care
salesman," said another lawyer trying to describe the ex-members attitudes in
conversation about the terrible episode.
Another attorney who represented former members is amazed
at the low-key, almost detached personalities of some of the survivors. "They
dont want to talk about it or deal with it," he said.
According to psychologist Chris Hatcher, of the University
of California at San Francisco, who has followed the lives of over 300 former temple
members, few have serious psychiatric problems, and their suicide rate is low. Hatcher
says that the survivors know that their experience was at "the far end" of the
cult scale, and that they were "pushing the limits of human morality. It is not an
experience that most people can cope with," he added. "It is a great unanswered
question why they have not had more.
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