One of the world's worst mass suicide 33 years ago took the lives of more than 900 people. One of the Jonestown survivors is from Rockville, Md., and she's sharing her story of survival in a book.
More than 900 members of the Peoples Temple of Jonestown committed suicide drinking, or injected with, a cyanide-laced fruit drink at the urging of their cult founder, Pastor Jim Jones.
Laura Johnston Kohl – who people here remember as Laura Reid -- said Jones seemed to embody social justice. She was young, idealistic and got caught up in the middle of it.
Kohl is a 1965 graduate of Richard Montgomery high school. A political activist, she went to California, joined the Peoples Temple. She moved to the jungles of Guyana with Jones to build a new society, a utopia.
“His message was 'we want to have fairness and equality and dignity right now,” she said. Kohl said only a chosen few knew of Jones' dark side -- the drugs, the mistresses, the paranoia.
But they would practice for doomsday:
“He had set it up that we all had juice, we all drank it, and then certain people would fall out of their chair as a way to show us it was really true. I thought it was just a joke,” Kohl said.
In 1973, Congressman Leo Ryan and other visitors were shot trying to leave the compound. Chilling FBI tapes recount Jones ordering his followers to drink the poison.
Kohl was at the temple's house in Guyana's capital when the order came down to die. She refused. But her friend obeyed. “Sharon then went upstairs and killed herself and her three children in the bathroom,” Kohl describes. “She slit all three throats and then her own.”
“I felt totally betrayed by him.”
Thirty years later, Kohl is a wife, mother and schoolteacher who's written a book. “Survivors were talked about as brainless, and sheep led to the slaughter,” she said. “I want people to know that those of us who made the commitment, made the commitment because we wanted the world different -- we wanted it better.”
She'll be speaking at the following locations.
Thurs. 4/28 7 pm @ William Penn House 515 East Capitol St. SE, Washington, D.C.
Sat. 4/ 30 10 am @ Washington Friends Meeting House 2111 Florida Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.