'Stories from Jonestown' Is a Poignant Testimony to Spirit, Forgiveness and Stoic Resilience
We were gone all day on an off-campus retreat. When we got back late that November 1978 night, we heard the news on the radio: a US congressman had been killed in the jungles of Guyana. Our first thought, not all that far removed from the long slog of Vietnam, was “Holy crap, we’re going to war.”
The reality wasn’t even close: it was far more horrific. The murder of Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Cal.) and others in his party at an airstrip was just the beginning. As the incident’s full record trickled out to the world, everything about it was staggering: the magnitude (918 dead), the method (mass suicide, as it was commonly reported, but some were also shot), and the site (a place carved out of the middle of the jungle in a country we barely could find on the map).
The most befuddling thing about hearing the news of the massacre at Jonestown (note that few called it a massacre in those early days) was how it could have happened in the first place. What was a Jonestown, and what were all those people doing down there in the first place?