Remembering Jonestown

Survivor Recalls Horror of Notorious Guyana Commune

Listen: Listen to the 1981 NPR documentary about Jonestown, 'Father Cares,' Part 1.

Listen: 'Father Cares,' Part 2

Listen: 'Father Cares,' Part 3

The main Jonestown pavilion, where Jim Jones delivered long, haranguing sermons late into the night.

The main Jonestown pavilion, where Jim Jones delivered long sermons late into the night. Bettman/Corbis hide caption

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Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones.

Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones. He ordered the mass killing of his 900 followers. Bettmann/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Bettmann/Corbis

Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of the mass suicide and murder in Jonestown, Guyana. More than 900 followers of Reverend Jim Jones were killed after they drank fruit drink mixed with cyanide. The victims included men, women and hundreds of children.

Jones had moved his group, called Peoples Temple, from its base in California to Guyana the year before. The idea was to create an agricultural utopia in the jungle, free from racism and based on communist principles. Jones told his followers to think of him as the incarnation of Christ, and God.

By 1978, his paranoia had reached a fever pitch. In mid-November of that year, U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California had gone to the village to investigate complaints of abuse. When he left the village on Nov. 18, he took several defectors with him. But Ryan, along with four others, was shot and killed by members of Peoples Temple at an airstrip in Guyana.

The Jonestown massacre began later that day. NPR's Melissa Block talks with survivor Laura Johnston Kohl, who was in the Guyanese capital, Georgetown, the day of the mass suicide. In her interview with Block, Kohl looks back on what went wrong, and the pain and regret she lives with.

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