East Bay News

Jonestown memorial dedicated in East Oakland

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pain and anguish resurfaced Sunday, more than 30 years after the Jonestown massacre.

On Sunday, family members dedicated a memorial to those who died in Guyana, including the infamous church leader who led them to their deaths, Jim Jones.

Most of the people who died in Jonestown were from the Bay Area. 436 of them are now buried in East Oakland, because it was the only cemetery willing to take them. There was a reunion 32 years in the making Sunday, and for survivors of the Jonestown massacre, what a long 32 years it has been.

"I lost my mother, my husband, my sister, my niece and nephew," Leslie Wilson told ABC7.

Wilson escaped with her life. 13 family members were not as lucky. 11 of them are buried at an East Oakland cemetery, unnamed in a simple grave until Sunday, when the memorial plaques bearing the names all 918 people who died in Jonestown were revealed.

"With the memorial, we can actually see their names, run our hands across the names, see they're engraved in stone the same way they're engraved in our hearts," Wilson said.

However, there is one name some people did not want to see engraved at all, Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones. A Southern California pastor who lost 27 family members at Jonestown sued to block the memorial, but last week, a superior court judge sided with a group of memorial supporters including Jim Jones' son, saying the service should go on with Jones' name etched in stone.

For many, the mass murder-suicide in 1978 tarnishes otherwise happy memories from life on the commune in Guyana.

"Unfortunately, Jim Jones became a madman and he destroyed all those lives," survivor Herbert Newell said.

Newell has 11 family members on the memorial and says Jones' name should be among them.

"I don't see why not. He was a part of it. He was a leader of it, but people go wrong you know, in life. All of us wouldn't have been there if it wouldn't a been for him," he said.

The faces of those who died in Jonestown may seem like distant memories, but not for this group.

"52, and after all these years, I realized there was something I needed to do, I wanted to do, and i didn't know what it was. I wanted to say goodbye and now I can," Juanell Smart said. "Goodbye mom, goodbye Uncle Job, and goodbye my beautiful children."

Even with the memorial's unveiling Sunday, the controversy goes on. Lawyers are expected to meet this week to try to reach a settlement between the cemetery and a pastor who says she had the rights to build a memorial without Jim Jones' name on it.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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oakland, crime, east bay news, cecilia vega
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