At the 32nd annual Jonestown memorial, held at an Evergreen Cemetery mass grave for Peoples Temple victims, a schism among mourners led to competing ceremonies – one led by a woman who lost 27 family members in the mass suicide in Guyana, the other by Jim Jones Jr.
The first ceremony was hosted by Jynona Norwood of San Francisco, who has organized what she calls the “official” Jonestown memorial for more than three decades. Hers is a heartbreaking ceremony focusing on lessons learned, guidance from God, and the dangers of following charismatic leaders like Jim Jones.
The second ceremony, held four hours later at the same site, was organized by Jones Jr., son of the infamous Peoples Temple leader who ordered the suicides of 909 of his followers, plus the killings of Rep. Leo Ryan of San Mateo and a news crew, in 1978. Jones Jr.’s ceremony was more of a family reunion. People hugged, took snapshots, caught up on each other’s lives and reminisced. There were no sermons, no music, no speeches. Jones Sr. was hardly mentioned at all.
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Both ceremonies were attended by 30 to 40 family members of Jonestown victims.
Norwood was insulted by the “outrageous” second ceremony.
“It’s like spitting on the souls of those who’ve died,” she said. “It’s an insult.”
Jones, now a medical equipment salesman in San Francisco, didn’t see it that way: “After 32 years, do I need any more sermons? Do I need to learn the lesson again? Let’s not talk about what happened anymore. I want to talk about healing and moving on.”
Nine hundred eighteen people died at Jonestown, many them African Americans from Oakland and San Francisco who had followed Jim Jones to the jungles of Guyana to found a utopian society.
Many tried to leave when Jones Sr. became increasingly dictatorial, but he prevented them. Ryan, an accompanying defector and journalists were shot and killed when they flew to Guyana to investigate.
Shortly afterward, Jones induced 909 of his followers – including 305 children – to consume a cyanide-laced drink. More than 400 of those bodies were never claimed, either because whole families had died or because surviving family members were afraid of Jones’ minions or the stigma of the tragedy.
Evergreen Cemetery volunteered to take the unclaimed bodies, where they lie in a mass grave on a quiet, shady glade overlooking the bay.
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