Timeline: Road to tragedy in Jonestown

(AP) — The Rev. Jim Jones and his followers participated in a murder/suicide that took the lives of more than 900 people, including a U.S. congressman, 25 years ago. The massacre was so shocking that every case of mass suicide with religious overtones afterward has been compared to it.

May 13, 1931: Jim Jones is born in Crete, Indiana.

September 1954: Jones speaks at Laurel Street Tabernacle, an Assemblies of God Pentecostal church in Indianapolis.

April 4, 1955: Several members of the Laurel Street Tabernacle join with Jones to form the Wings of Deliverance church, later renamed the Peoples Temple. The church was formed in part to further Jones’ beliefs in racial diversity.

1960: The Peoples Temple officially becomes a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Jones is ordained as a minister, despite lacking any formal training. The church changes its name again to the Peoples Temple Christian Church. Twenty percent of church members are African-Americans.

1965: The Temple moves with 70 families, half of whom are African-Americans, to Ukiah, California. The church and Jones tried to escape personal threats and conflicts over radical theology. Jones also believed California to be a “safe zone” in the event of nuclear war, where racial equality could grow.

1972: The church opens a second congregation, in San Francisco.

1974: The Peoples Temple is granted a lease from the government of Guyana for a tract of land for colonization.

1977: Jonestown, Guyana, grows to 50 people. They come under suspicion of the Internal Revenue Service for revenue generated from elderly care homes they maintained. At this point, Jones begins urging his followers to move to Jonestown.

November 14, 1978: Congressman Leo Ryan travels to Jonestown on a fact-finding mission over concerns of family members and in part to investigate a child custody dispute between Jones and a former church member.

November 17: Ryan tours Jonestown and interviews members. Sixteen members leave with him.

November 18: Ryan continues his tour of Jonestown, but cuts it short when a member tries to cut his throat. While preparing to leave from an airstrip, a truck carrying armed Temple guards opens fire. Ryan, three journalists and a Temple member are killed. Following the attack, Jones calls his congregation together, telling them they are being forced to commit “revolutionary suicide” by the outside world. One woman dissented but she was suppressed. The Temple members line up to drink a fruit drink mixed with potassium cyanide and sedatives. Mothers fed the poison to their children. Jones is later found shot to death. In the end, 913 people died, 276 of them children.

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Associated Press, USA
Nov. 17, 2003

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday November 18, 2003.
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