The existence of man hasn’t been without its troubles and horrors. Earthquakes, wildfires, wars, genocides, droughts, floods and more have plagued man from time immemorial. Suicide, an unnatural disaster has also been one of the horrors the world has been facing for centuries; humans taking their own lives on a daily basis. However, it is uncommon to hear of mass suicides. The largest mass suicide ever recorded, occurred in 1987 in the tropical lands of Guyana – popularly referred to as the Jonestown Massacre. This tragedy claimed the lives of over 900 people in a single day and was on record as the largest mass death of Americans before September 11, 2001.
Many might wonder why 900 people would consent to take their lives at the same time on the same day. This was the question on the lips of many when the event occurred in 1978 – and it still remains on the minds of many to date. The single most summative reason is religion – the power of belief. In the history of mankind, beliefs have turned a brother against a brother, led to wars, killing of infants among other despicable acts. Belief and religion are some of the most powerful forces that exist and those who hold on to it can do the unbelievable, as exemplified in the case of the Jonestown Massacre at the Peoples’ Temple, led by the cult leader, Jim Jones.
Who Is Jim Jones?
Born on May 13, 1931, to James Thurman Jones and Lynetta Putnam, James Warren Jones was responsible for the Jonestown massacre that claimed the lives of over 900 people – mostly American citizens. Jim was a civil rights activist, a religious leader, a reverend (as ordained by Independent Assemblies of God and by the Disciples of Christ), and a faith healer. He is most popular as the founder and leader of a Christian sect or group known as the Peoples’ Temple.
Before he established his church, he was a student pastor at a Sommerset Southside Methodist Church. He established the Peoples’ Temple Christian Church Full Gospel after he left Methodist, sometime in the late 1950s at Indiana, which also happens to be his birth town. The church was initially established to provide a home for every race, with no discrimination. This ideology of the church attracted many African-Americans. Another core message of his sermons was that the world was facing an imminent nuclear apocalypse and that the only ones that would survive it were those of his fold.
As time went on, Jim Jones moved his church to California and later expanded to San Francisco, but the media scrutiny and his paranoia drove him to purchase a property in Guyana in 1974, where he and his followers relocated to. This was his promised paradise for his people. Sadly, it was no paradise at all, as it was run like a prison. The followers were made to work hard, eat little and weren’t allowed to leave the camp.
It was at Guyana, South of America that Jim Jones died alongside the 900 people who followed him there. He is believed to have shot himself, as a gun wound was found on his corpse. Before his death, he was married to Marceline Baldwin Jones and had 9 children some of who were born by other women. He was said to have engaged in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships outside his marriage while preaching abstinence to his followers.
How is the Jonestown Massacre The Largest Mass Suicide in Modern History?
The Jonestown Massacre as it is often called is the largest mass suicide in modern history. It occurred at the Peoples’ Temple Agricultural Project site where the members of Peoples’ Temple settled into after they fled San Francisco. On the day of the mass suicide in 1978, congressman Ryan and journalists who accompanied him visited the new settlement to observe.
After the visit, on their way back to their airplane, a group of the sect’s deserters approached him and asked to leave with them, he obliged. As they were about to board the plane, they were attacked and most of them were murdered by gunmen sent by Jim Jones, the sect leader. Knowing that the government would come for him when the incident filters to the news, he decided to kill all defectors – including the observers.
This event was the start of the horror that will befall Guyana on November 18, 1978. Back in Jonestown, Jones announced that everyone should assemble at the pavilion. Over 900 people including 300 children gathered. They were all given a deadly punch to drink, while some were injected with the mixture. The grape-flavored punch drink had been laced with cyanide and valium. The children were the first to be administered the mixture and then the adults. It is said that those who refused to take the mixture were forced to do so by armed gunmen that surrounded the pavilion. After making sure that everyone was dead, Jim Jones took a bullet to the head that ended his own life. However, it is yet to be proven if he shot himself or if he was shot by one of his trusted men.
Why Did They Choose Suicide?
The reason for the suicide is yet to be ascertained. However, what is sure is that Jim Jones tagged it a ‘revolutionary suicide’ and why he thought so is still unclear. Also, some news reports state that before the suicide, he told his followers that if they did not do it, Congressman Ryan’s colleagues will come and take their children away from them to avenge Ryan’s death.
Were There Any Survivors?
Yes, there were a couple of survivors. Not everyone was in the camp at the time of the suicide as some people had been sent on errands for the Peoples’ Temple. Furthermore, some people at the capital of Jonestown who didn’t get the information about the mass suicide going on at Jonestown survived the massacre. Three of Jim Jones’ sons, Stephan, Jim Jr., and Tim, who were away playing basketball were part of the survivors.