Cult of Death: The Jonestown Nightmare

A religious colony in Guyana turns into a cult of death

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The Victims
Odell Rhodes, a Temple member who survived by hiding underneath a building, said that among the very first to line up for the poison were several mothers and their babies. He said that there was no panic or emotional outburst; that people looked as if they were "in a trance."

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In San Francisco, outside Jones' remaining temple, a crowd gathered despite a chilly rain. Some were anguished—and angry—relatives of those who died in Jonestown. Inside the temple, Guy Young, 43, said he had "one son and a son-in-law that I know are alive." Then he sobbed, and another member explained: "His wife, four daughters, son and two grandchildren have been reported dead." Young recovered and added: "I don't regret one moment they were there. That was the most happy and most rewarding days of their lives."

Inevitably, bitterness erupted over whether the tragedy at Jonestown could have been prevented. Members of Congressman Ryan's saddened staff claimed that the U.S. embassy in Georgetown should have known of the cult's potential for violence and warned him. Sorrowing relatives of the victims charged that both the State Department and FBI should have long ago heeded their warnings about Jonestown. Yet both agencies had a valid point in claiming that there are important legal restrictions against the Government's prying into the private affairs of Americans living abroad, as well as constitutional protection of groups claiming to be religious.

The bickering, the probes, and the fear of hit men stalking their prey will not soon end. Yet the blame for the tragedy at Jonestown must rest primarily on Jim Jones. Even his 19-year-old son Stephan admitted, "I can almost say I hate this man." His father, Stephan said, "claimed he was afraid of nothing, which I know was bull. My father was a very frightened man."

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