The images shocked the world: Hundreds of dead, bloated bodies, looking as if they had washed ashore in the Peoples Temple settlement of Jonestown, Guyana.
With 918 dead in the largest mass-murder-suicide in history, the sheer loss of life would be filtered through the American subconscious into a pop culture warning against blind obedience: "Don't drink the Kool-Aid."
The Jonestown tragedy happened 30 years ago Tuesday. For the family and friends of those victims, many from the Bay Area, the passage of time hasn't brought them any closer to understanding.
Rep. Jackie Speier, then a 28-year-old aide to then-U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, lay shot and bleeding on an airstrip runway at Port Kaituma, Guyana, that day.Speier, who was just elected to the same congressional seat Ryan held, was shot five times and left for dead while on a fact-finding mission investigating the Peoples Temple.
Though critically wounded, Speier would eventually make it to safety. Ryan — the only U.S. congressman to ever be assassinated — was shot numerous times, including once at point-blank range in the head, and he died in the shadow of their plane.
Survivors, friends and relatives of those who died say the tragedy was anything but suicide.
"Those people were murdered," Speier said. "(Jim Jones) intimidated people with the kinds of activities he engaged in and, much like other psychologically controlling environments, you become isolated and
Friends and relatives of those who died say the victims were smart, headstrong and idealistic people taken in by Jones' charisma and promises of an egalitarian utopia, and then controlled through a regimen of physical and sexual abuse, public humiliation and isolation from family and friends.
"These were very intelligent and very strong people," said Sarah Pike, a religious studies professor at Chico State. Pike teaches a class called "End of the World" that covers what she calls "new religious movements" such as the Peoples Temple. "If you dismiss it as a cult, you dehumanize these people."
Pike said people join organizations such as the Peoples Temple because they believe they will be making the world a better place.
Peoples Temple always stressed doing charitable works, such as offering nursing home care to the elderly, feeding the poor and joining in protests for the rights of minorities.
"With a really charismatic person, people put their faith in that person and it takes a lot to become disenchanted with them," she said. In the case of Jones, "people had really dedicated themselves to this utopian vision. Even if they had doubted him, they still had faith in the vision and the community."
Clare Bouquet recalls the time when her son, Brian, asked her if she knew how jazz-age singer Bessie Smith died. According to the rumors at the time (since proven untrue), Smith was seriously injured in a car accident and bled to death after first being refused care at a whites-only hospital.
"That was Brian," she said. "He was very conscious of social issues and against racism. He was always for the underdog."
Raised in Burlingame, Brian Bouquet attended Our Lady of Angels Roman Catholic School, Mills and Junipero Serra high schools and the College of San Mateo, where he once turned in a 33-page anti-Vietnam war essay titled "The Effects of War on Children."
Clare said her son taught himself to play the saxophone and flute and, in one of the pictures taken by Greg Robinson in Jonestown before his death, Brian can be seen playing a saxophone with the Peoples Temple band with Leo Ryan standing in the foreground.
Clare said Brian was recruited into the temple at age 23 by Tim Carter, a slightly older Burlingame man who had attended Junipero Serra High.
According to her, Carter, sent by Jones, was responsible for recruiting many of the young people from San Mateo County. Carter himself survived the Jonestown massacre and is rumored to have escaped with a briefcase containing $500,000.
"(Jones) knew who he wanted," Bouquet said. "He took kids who were ripe. And some of the people in Jones-town were poor and black — he took their property."
When Bouquet found out her son had followed Jones to Guyana in 1978, she despaired. She joined the Concerned Relatives, a group of like-minded people worried about their relatives in the temple.
She eventually traveled to Guyana as part of Ryan's contingent, but made it no farther than Georgetown, the capital. There weren't enough seats for everyone on the plane that would fly the delegation to Jonestown, and Ryan decided who would stay and who would go.
"I was terrified, but I was willing to do anything to save my son," Clare said. "Leo said, 'No, you can't get on that plane.' He saved my life."
The last communication Clare had with Brian was via shortwave radio, transmitting from a temple-owned house in Georgetown to the compound out in the jungle. She said that her son's voice sounded programmed. Before Ryan left for Jonestown, Clare asked him to tell Brian she loved him.
"I'm not at peace, and I'll never be at peace," she said. "But I've separated my son from the whole mess. He's still my Brian. I'm very proud of him and he broke my heart and it's still broken. It was such a waste of a beautiful life."
It was a wonderful, warm family life, living in the communal atmosphere of the temple's dorms in Santa Rosa, said Vera (Ingram) Washington. She used to cut the hair of little Jimmy, Jones' adopted son. She fell in love with a fellow temple member, and Jones officiated their union.
"The sad part is how (Jones) got so derailed," she said. "His vision was awesome. It was a wonderful warm family. Then it went so wrong."
Washington, who now works in the health care industry and lives in the East Bay with her second husband and three sons, was part of the young group of college students Jones considered his "pride and joy," she said.
It was a group that would later be dubbed the "Gang of Eight" — a term she finds offensive — for betraying the temple and leaving in 1973. She proceeded from there with a more normal life, but her sister-in-law and 13-year-old niece died in Jonestown.
Washington met Jim Jones when she was about 17, when he came to her church in San Francisco.
"He was awesome," she said. "We all thought we could make the world a better place for everybody. He was out there, not afraid to express his views, and I admired that. He was a teacher. He taught history. This was no idiot and neither were we.
"I don't talk about (Peoples Temple) very often, because most people look at it superficially and think that we were just dumb to follow this guy. But these were highly intelligent people, trying to make a difference in the world."
But things began to change. "Jim appeared to be guided in his primary decisionmaking by a small elite group," she said. "He seemed to lose sight of his earlier goals and instead set out to acquire as much wealth as possible. He forced everyone to live communally and turn in all liquid assets."
She added, "But you were always told you don't betray the group. One or two people had left the group before me, and (Jones) would blatantly say they were traitors and bad things would happen to them. It was disconcerting."
The small group of students, who felt they could trust each other, got some money together, mostly from relatives outside the church. One night, they took off. They drove all night, north to Washington, then to Montana and Idaho.
"There were rumors of hit squads, or people who would get us in trouble with the law, so we moved around a lot," she said. "But we were resilient. Young. We didn't just mope around. We had fun with freedom. We didn't realize how long we had been restricted."
Washington eventually returned to the Bay Area, divorced and enrolled at UC San Francisco.
Life moved on, but her brother and his family and many of her old friends were still with the Peoples Temple, and would eventually move to Jonestown.
In 1978, she watched the news on TV.
"Even though he had always said we would do it if it came to that — to die for the cause — we never thought he'd do it," she said.
Every time she puts on a pair of earrings, Jeanette Goodwin is reminded of Sharon Kislingbury. The two became best friends while attending Burlingame Intermediate School. One afternoon 40 years ago, guided more by girlish adrenaline than experience, Kislingbury pierced Goodwin's ears with a needle.
"They're totally uneven," said Goodwin, now 52. "My mom almost had a heart attack."
But she remembers the care Kislingbury took that afternoon — numbing her ears with ice cubes, sterilizing the needle, cleaning the fresh wounds with alcohol — and she can imagine Kislingbury today working as a counselor or a social worker.
"She was always wanting to help people, those less fortunate than her," said Goodwin, an assistant department head of the film school at Montana State University. "She was very independent and free-spirited, and she always got straight As."
After graduating from Mills High in the mid-70s, Kislingbury moved to Humboldt, when Goodwin said her communication became sporadic. She became alarmed when Kislingbury came home on a break, acting distant and talking about a preacher she'd met.
"When she told me about Jones, I thought, 'What did he do to her?' She was saying he had higher powers," Goodwin said. "I was in disbelief that she was so taken in. You knew she had changed then."
Said Graham Kislingbury, Sharon's older brother, "If I have a regret, it's that she ticked me off during the years in the temple. She wanted me to go to the temple, but it sounded too weird, too good to be true."
Graham, 55, lives in Oregon and said he's moved on but hasn't forgotten.
"You don't sugarcoat it," he said. "This is what happened. This is what the man did. What I've concluded is that if it's polluted at the top, it's going to filter down."
Goodwin last saw Kislingbury alive in San Francisco. She and another friend heard that Kislingbury was selling goods at a flea market to raise money to travel to Guyana, and they went to try to reason with her.
But Kislingbury was surrounded by other temple members and Goodwin "couldn't break through at all."
"Once news reports came down (from Guyana), I knew she was down there in that pile of bodies," Goodwin said.
The last time she would see Sharon was at the double funeral held for her and Kimberly Brewster, a Millbrae woman she had gone to school with who also died at Jonestown. Kislingbury was 22, Brewster was 23.
"She could have had such a good life," Goodwin said. "I'm still just trying to understand it all."
JIM JONES JR.
Sixteen members of the Peoples Temple asked Ryan to take them back to America, potentially undermining Jim Jones' efforts to portray Jones-town as heaven on Earth. He is believed to have sent the gunmen that ambushed them.
Shortly after the events at the airstrip, with his options running out, Jones gathered his flock and, using every last ounce of persuasive energy in his body, he convinced, coerced or threatened more than 900 people to drink cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid. The children were killed first, the poison squirted into the backs of their throats with syringes, then the elderly and finally the adults. A few would escape into the jungle.
Jones' adopted son, Jim Jones Jr., was not at the settlement that day. He was in the capital of Georgetown for a basketball game.
Jones Jr. lives in Pacifica today with his wife and three sons. He has been interviewed dozens of times about his father and his experiences growing up in the temple.
This year, as in many past, he plans to attend the annual memorial service at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, but he won't stay mired in the past. That afternoon, he'll fly to San Diego to watch his son Rob — a star basketball player at Riordan High in San Francisco last year — play a game for the University of San Diego.
"I wasn't planning on doing any interviews this year," he said. "But a friend said, 'You know, Jim, you can't choose to stop talking about it. After you're gone, there's not going to be a story.' The good part is that 30 years later, other people are coming out and sharing their feelings and thoughts. I can empathize with others. Hopefully, that can be healing for them."
Staff Writers Angela Hill and Michael Manekin contributed to this report.