The Largest Suicide in History

The Jonestown Massacre


Alexia, Staff Writer

On November 18, 1978, the largest suicide took place at Jonestown. Jonestown was a small town in Guyana built by Jim Jones. There was hardly any government authority in Jonestown making anything and everything legal. The leader of this town was Jim Jones.


For a bit of context, before we get into this tragic event, Jim Jones was born in Indiana on May 13, 1931. Jones was always a religious person; he had been involved with the church from a very young age. This would make you think that he was just a harmless and innocent boy who was raised well. After he graduated from Butler University Jones joined the church, which didn’t seem out of the ordinary at all because of how he grew up. In the eyes of the people around Jim Jones, he was a nice man who just wanted to make the world a better place because according to David Chiu, a reporter at Rolling Stone, he was a big advocate for racial integration and helping improve the world for the better. I wouldn’t disagree with those people either because if I was around Jones and he talked about how he wanted equal rights for everyone I would also say he was a great man and wouldn’t mean any harm.


In 1955 Jones started a church named Wings of Deliverance in Indianapolis but was later known as the Peoples Temple. According to The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Jones had supernatural powers such as seeing the future and healing those who were sick. The public obviously didn’t believe this because if someone approaches you and says they can heal your broken leg in 5 minutes you would think they were crazy. But Jim Jones’s followers did believe this so when he said he had a “vision” of a nuclear war they believed him. This resulted in the Peoples Temple moving to Eureka, California, which Jones saw in an article that was the safest place to be when there is a nuclear war.


When the Peoples Temple settled in California, it attracted attention from the public which was predictable because they had very different beliefs than other churches. But it wasn’t their beliefs that attracted the attention it was the accusations of suspicious activities that were allegedly taking place. I wouldn’t doubt that there actually were suspicious activities occurring because of how the Peoples Temple ended. Jim Jones was starting to become overwhelmed by all these accusations and decided it was time to move out of the public eye.


The Peoples Temple once again moved but his time they moved out of the country to Guyana, which is a country in South America. This move was the beginning of the horrible events that would soon follow. In Guyana, Jones formed his own town called Jonestown. To no one’s surprise, Jones made himself the leader of this town so he had complete control over everything and everyone. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica explained that Jones confiscated his follower’s passports and money, and then continued to threaten his followers with blackmail, beatings, and death.


One of the theories of the Peoples Temple is that members were brainwashed into believing everything Jones was saying and others say that members knew exactly what they were doing. But I believe that the people of the Peoples Temple were being brainwashed into believing everything that came out of Jim Jones’s mouth.


On November 14, 1978, 4 days before the tragic event, Leo Ryan, a U.S. Congressman, visited Jonestown. This visit was also due to suspicious activity again like in California. Jim Jones was accused of holding members against their will and abusing them. At this point, I think the Peoples Temple members were starting to realize how evil Jim Jones was. According to J. Gordon Melton, contributor at Britannica, the visit went well, but for unknown reasons, Ryan and those who accompanied him were murdered when they were about to leave back to the United States.


After the murder of Leo Ryan, Jim Jones ordered his followers to come together and commit what he called, a “revolutionary act,” that members had practiced before. All of the members swallowed fruit juice that was laced with poison. It first started with the youngest followers, Alison Eldridge, editor at Britannica, said that the poison was “squirted into the mouths of babies and children via syringe”. The last to complete the “revolutionary suicide” was Jim Jones who died from a gunshot wound to the head, as stated by Rolling Stone’s David Chiu. In total more than 900 people died that day, 300 of them aged 17 and under.


There have been many conspiracy theories about what happened at Jonestown. It was said that Jonestown was made and controlled by the CIA, Jonestown was supposedly a mind-controlling experiment and the CIA was sponsoring Jim Jones. Another theory is that the followers of the Peoples Temple were murdered and did not commit suicide, when the bodies were examined a needle mark was found on the back of the shoulders of almost all the victims. There are way more theories on the Jonestown murder/suicide and I highly encourage you to look into them because they are very interesting and will make you look at this case differently.