ASSOCIATED PRESS: Peoples Temple sprang from the heartland in the 1950s. Rev. Jim Jones built an interracial congregation in Indianapolis through passionate Pentecostal preaching and courageous calls for racial equality. Moving his flock to California, the minister transformed his church into a leftist social movement with programs for the poor. Political work by his followers elevated Jones to prominence in liberal Democratic circles by the late 1970s. He was head of San Francisco’s public housing commission when media scrutiny and legal problems spurred his retreat to Jonestown for what would be his last stand.
Jones had gathered his people in the pavilion and, weaving words of desperation, had begun preparing them for the end. Then he used news of Ryan’s shooting to convince the throng that they had no hope, no future, no place to go. “The congressman has been murdered!” he announced. “Please get the medication before it’s too late. … Don’t be afraid to die.” When potassium cyanide-laced Grape Flavor Aid was brought forward, Jones wanted the children to go first, sealing everyone’s fate because the parents and elders would have no reason to live. With armed guards encircling everyone and with youngsters bawling and screaming, medical staff members with syringes squirted poison down the throats of babies. Within hours, 900 people would die in a Jones-led murder and suicide ritual of epic proportions.
One enduring mystery is who put a bullet in Jones’ head. Evidence suggests that he shot himself at the pavilion or was killed by a close aide, as he had planned. Two of those aides, sisters Annie Moore and Carolyn Layton, were among 13 people whose bodies were found in Jones’ cottage. But Moore was the only one who was shot and may well have been the last person to die in the settlement. Her suicide note praised Jonestown and Jones. “His love for humans was insurmountable,” she wrote, “and it was many whom he put his love and trust in, and they left him and spit in his face.” Her epitaph read: “We died because you would not let us live.” MORE