Los Angeles Times
Saturday Journal

Remembering Jonestown
Twenty years after the mass deaths
in Guyana, a reporter recalls how
time has not diminished the horror.
by Tim Reiterman, Times Staff Writer

November 14, 1998

Oakland, California -- For 20 years now, in sun, fog and rain, they have come to a grassy hillside overlooking San Francisco Bay to share tears, hugs and their private pain -- and to remember the unfathomable events of another Nov. 18.

Often seeming outnumbered by reporters, they collect around a small stone monument in Evergreen Cemetery, link hands and pray. Later, in small clutches, they reminisce and trade news about their lives after that day.

It is here, among these people who are forever entwined with one of the great tragedies, that Jonestown endures as nowhere else.

Always present is the retired butcher, sad-eyed and bent by the years and the loss of his wife, seven children and 19 relatives. And always preaching is his wiry, iron-voiced niece, who also lost 27 relatives.

Others have come, if not every year:

The mother who was nearly killed trying to save her two teenage sons.

The former congressional aide whose body was ripped by bullets on a distant jungle airstrip.

The Stanford-educated attorney who turned archenemy of the powerful church he helped build.

And even the son of the man who called himself the only God his followers would ever know.

These people are living strands of the Peoples Temple saga -- and their stories may carry threads of meaning for the millions who cannot comprehend the horrifying murders and suicides orchestrated by the Rev. Jim Jones.

The survivors and relatives are reminders of the decency of most of those who died with Jones in Guyana, the magnitude of the loss, the waste of it all.

Somehow they have the strength to stand here at the unmarked graves of 409 children and others whose bodies were unidentified or unclaimed. And most years I have stood beside them to pay respect to Jonestown's 913 victims -- and to mourn Rep. Leo Ryan and my own comrades gunned down around me at nearby Port Kaituma.

The violent collapse of Peoples Temple reverberated around the world in 1978 and struck particularly hard in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Mendocino County, where Jones established churches and political alliances.

For those of us who were there, the cataclysm does not seem such a distant memory. It remains a part of each day. And those who assemble at this graveside -- and many who cannot bear to do so -- share that bond.

A Chance to Find Out the Truth

Beverly Oliver traveled alone across the bridge from San Francisco's Fillmore district. Her thin, knowing smile had not changed, although she lost what was most dear to her.

Late in 1977, Beverly and her husband, Howard, were two of the determined parents who journeyed to Guyana to try to see their children.

She was a former temple member, and he owned a watch repair shop. Their sons, Bruce, 19, and Billy, 17, had gone to Jonestown for what was supposed to be a brief vacation at the church's agricultural commune, but did not return.

For eight days, the Olivers received little help from the Guyanese government or the U.S. Embassy, and the temple refused to let them see their sons.

The Olivers left for home, but did not quit. Howard, with the shoulders of a football player, helped lead a San Francisco protest by 50 "Concerned Relatives" who alleged that the temple was keeping them from loved ones and making veiled threats of mass suicide.

The Olivers borrowed money for their final trip to Guyana in 1978. Hopes were high this time because there were other relatives, a congressman and several reporters, including me. Ryan had embarked on the fact-finding mission after reading one of my stories and meeting constituents with children in Jonestown.

After days of delaying tactics by the temple, Beverly was one of the relatives selected to accompany us by small plane and truck to the 3,850-acre agricultural mission.

For me, this was an opportunity to find out the truth about a place described by some as a socialist utopia and a refuge from racism, by others as a hellish work camp ruled by a pistol-toting tyrant who sexually and physically abused his followers. Going there, it seemed, was the only way to tell if the settlers were free to leave.

Even after writing about Jones for 18 months for the San Francisco Examiner, it was shocking to see his glazed eyes and festering paranoia face to face, to realize that nearly a thousand lives, ours included, were in his hands. He said he felt like a dying man and, frighteningly, ranted about government conspiracies and martyrdom as he decried attacks by the press and his enemies.

For Beverly, the stakes were her flesh and blood. She and her sturdy and handsome sons reclined on a bench together, talking. They had tried to protect her, warning her not to say anything negative, and they made it clear that they loved her. She radiated a confident smile; they were still her boys, not Jones'.

But they stayed behind when their mother and the rest of us in the congressman's party climbed onto a truck to leave with about a dozen defectors.

As a storm lashed us, Jones' final words to me had been ominous: "I feel sorry that we are being destroyed from within." He knew the defectors would expose the awful truth that hundreds of well-meaning people were held captive by his paranoia and cruelty, and the surrounding jungle. This minister who retreated to a lost corner of the earth had no place else to go.

He soon unleashed forces that would leave Beverly Oliver wounded and her sons dead. After the word of trouble reached Howard Oliver in Georgetown, 150 miles away, he suffered a stroke. He would blame his wife for the loss of their sons, and they would separate. After diabetes cost him his legs, he died eight years ago.

"I have not been to a memorial service in 17 years," Beverly said recently. "I got to where I could not handle it. I had a nervous breakdown.... I lost my children, Tim. I lost all I had, which is my boys."

A Barrage of Gunfire Pierces the Air

About five years ago, a small boy was tugging at a dandelion poking from beneath a gravestone. Then his mother, a dark-haired woman in business attire, stepped to the microphone to offer remembrances and words of comfort.

Tragedy had bracketed the life of Jackie Speier, the energetic longtime state assemblywoman who recently won a state Senate seat. In 1994, her husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her pregnant and with a 5-year-old son. But before that there was Jonestown.

Not long out of law school, she accompanied Ryan as his legal aide on a trip she considered so dangerous that before embarking she made out a will.

She seemed out of place in the jungle with her sundresses and platform shoes, but she was plunged into the gathering fury.

When defectors stepped forward, she stood, clipboard in hand, taping their statements. Then she protected them from harassment while they retrieved belongings.

As a temple truck slogged out through six miles of mud and ruts to the village of Port Kaituma, we were grim-faced, in high alert. During our departure, a temple member had thrust a knife to the congressman's throat before being subdued. One of our temple escorts had been spotted with a gun. And defectors had whispered that one among them, Larry Layton, was an impostor on a mission for Jones.

At the airstrip, in dusky light, Ryan began frisking defectors who were filing into a small Cessna -- but Layton managed to secret a handgun that he later would use to wound two defectors.

Meanwhile, as a farm tractor and trailer of temple members rolled toward us, Speier hurried people to a larger 20-seat plane and boarding took on new urgency.

At her request, I helped search defectors at the gangway, and two surrendered knives. Then a barrage of gunshots pierced the damp air and sent everyone into a frenzy.

Crouching, I scrambled under the plane and dove as bullets kicked up dirt and tore into people around me. Red exploded from my left forearm, and a second round punched my wrist, blowing off my watch.

With bodies tumbling and scattering, I sprinted away and flung myself into tall grass lining the airstrip. Hiding in brush, I staunched the bleeding with my belt. And when the shots tapered off, I came back to a terrible sight:

The stilled bodies of the congressman, Don Harris and Bob Brown of NBC, defector Patricia Parks -- and photographer Greg Robinson, my partner from the Examiner. Some were finished off with shots to the head.

Jackie, one of several with massive wounds, lay a few feet away from NBC soundman Steve Sung. "Hang on, Steve," she would call. "Hang on, Jackie baby," he would call back. Again and again.

Local people brought water and rum for them. When Jackie complained about cold, I covered her with clothing from my pack. And she used my recorder to tape a farewell to her parents.

That interminable night about a dozen of us hid in a tiny rum shop, waiting for rescuers or for the killers to come back. The owner gave us her curtains for bandages and vodka to disinfect our wounds.

Some of us took turns comforting the severely injured who were bivouacked in a tent at the airstrip. Though in bad shape, with gangrene starting in her leg, Jackie fought through incredible pain and was determined to survive.

Back at the rum shop, defectors named those who shot us. Then my heart froze as one added: "You're gonna see the worst carnage of your life at Jonestown. It's called revolutionary suicide."

Falling Under the Sway of Jim Jones

Some years ago the Rev. John Moore and his wife Barbara, a gentle couple of straight bearing, arrived at the graveside with one of their daughters. Jones took the other two daughters -- Carolyn and Annie -- as his intimates and never gave them back.

The third, Rebecca, now is a historian teaching at the University of North Dakota, but Jonestown follows her. She has written books about the tragedy and set up a Web site for essays reflecting on the 20th anniversary.

No one raised children who were better candidates for the social activism of Peoples Temple than the Moores did. The girls grew up with Christian good works, the civil rights movement and antiwar protests.

A short time after Carolyn and her husband, Larry Layton, joined the temple, the couple separated. Jim Jones had taken a liking to the petite French teacher.

When Carolyn gave birth to a child called Jim Jon or Kimo, everyone, including her parents, knew Jones was the father. Like many parents, the Moores were anguished that the temple had replaced them -- but they refrained from public criticism, fearing communication would be cut off.

Annie, who was nine years younger than Carolyn, resented the temple. But when she visited, she was moved by the interracial congregation and impressed by the temple care homes. She too fell under the sway of Jim Jones.

After the exodus to Jonestown, Carolyn and Annie were among the trusted cadre living in Jones' metal-roofed bungalow. Annie was his nurse; Carolyn helped control him when he went on chemical-tinged binges of madness.

They were there when this sick man -- who controlled his childhood playmates and later faked attacks on himself -- marched his people toward a long-rehearsed death rite.

First he told them that he loved them. Then he announced that someone was going to shoot the pilot and bring down the congressman's plane -- and they needed to commit suicide to save the children from their enemies. Later, when the gunmen returned from the airstrip, he cried, "The congressman has been murdered! ... It's all over."

Out came the purple cyanide potion -- and Jones was on his way to what was more mass murder than suicide. He had manipulated events and his people, so there seemed no way out. He had ordered that the children should die first, so the parents would have no hope. He had the pavilion surrounded by armed guards, so there would be no escape.

Soon poison was squirted down the throats of little ones. Dozens of the adults had to be forcibly injected.

Thirteen people died in Jones' house, including Carolyn and their son. Annie, 24, was found shot in the head, a .357 magnum handgun by her body along with her parting message:

"It seems that some people -- and perhaps the majority of people -- would like to destroy the best thing that ever happened to the one thousand two hundred or so of us who have followed Jim.... We died because you would not let us live."

A Coded Message to Those Outside

A husky man sidled up before one service several years ago. "Tim," he said. "Remember me?"

My memory stalled until he said his name. Sherwin Harris, an estate planning consultant, was a leader of the Concerned Relatives.

He was the ex-husband of Sharon Amos, the temple's public relations chief in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. Their daughter Liane had joined her mother in the temple.

After the temple exodus to Guyana, published stories, including mine, had heightened his concern about his daughter. And he knew something was wrong after they talked on the radiophone and he asked her to come home for a visit.

"Dad, are you a robot or a machine?" she said. "Is that all you can say?" Her words and the hardness in her voice persuaded him that she was coached. She was only 20 years old.

When Sherwin arrived with the Ryan delegation, he was determined to talk in person with Liane at Lamaha Gardens, the temple's house in Georgetown.

It took several days of trying but, finally, on Nov. 18, he was able to spend the afternoon talking and strolling with his daughter.

When they sat down for dinner with Amos' two other children, the mother seemed seriously distracted. A coded message had come from Jones: There were defectors, the faithful must seek revenge on their enemies, and everyone in Georgetown and San Francisco -- maybe 200 or more -- should kill themselves.

Oblivious, Sherwin Harris talked with his daughter about how they would spend the next day, then he left. Some time after he returned to his hotel, buoyant and hopeful, the police gave him gruesome news: Liane was dead.

"I felt like I'd been poleaxed," he recalled. "I couldn't breathe."

Amos had led her three children into a shower. With a kitchen knife, she slit the throats of the two little ones, 8 and 11. She cut her own throat with Liane's help. Then Liane turned the knife on herself.

They were the only ones outside the presence of Jones to heed his call.

Defectors Haunt Jones

Tim Stoen and Grace Jones arrive separately but still stand out in the small crowd. They were once a Peoples Temple love story -- and as close to an elite as one could get in a church that espoused egalitarianism. Even Jones knew they were formidable, something special -- and that is one reason their desertions had more to do with the temple's unraveling than any others.

Tim, now a silver-haired attorney, ran unsuccessfully for a Democratic state Senate nomination in June. He had returned to Christianity, remarried and lived until recently in the coastal hamlet of Mendocino where he and Grace honeymooned as temple neophytes.

Grace, now an East Bay mother of two and married to the man with whom she fled the temple, has kept her striking, dark-eyed looks and the mild South of Market twang that marks her as a San Franciscan. And when called upon to speak to the mourners, she does so with the strength and passion of the temple leader she once was.

When they fell in love, Tim was a Porsche-driving liberal Republican, a Stanford law school graduate. Barely out of high school, she was a former cheerleader and class officer, daughter of a butcher and a seamstress.

Tim introduced Grace to a progressive church run by a minister named Jones, and she agreed to give it a try for a year.

As he later would do in San Francisco, Jones urged Tim to work in the district attorney's office in Mendocino County, which accorded prestige and security.

Tim was the workaholic true believer. He was someone who could hobnob with the Rotary Club and the Republican Party, as he would do with liberal Democrats in the Bay Area. He sacrificed all his time for Jones and neglected his young wife.

After Grace gave birth to a boy, Tim in the ultimate gesture of trust secretly signed a statement attesting that he had asked his pastor to sire the child for him. And, true or not, that would bind John Victor Stoen to Jones for life.

Like others who rose through the ranks, Grace was compromised -- but she also grew increasingly repulsed by the church's direction. She had assisted in property transfers and guardianships that tightened the church's grip on members, and she witnessed disciplinary beatings. Her own son had been consigned to communal living, given a surrogate mother and treated as part of Jones' family.

When Grace eventually fled, Jones vowed that she never would get the boy back. When Tim also turned traitor, they joined forces for a strange international custody battle that would last until the end.

On Nov. 17, 1978, while Grace and Tim waited anxiously in Georgetown, Jones railed against them in Jonestown. He denied accusations that he was turning John against his mother. Then a bashful, olive-complexioned boy was brought to his side. "We have the same teeth and face," he said, making the child show his teeth for comparison.

When Jones asked the 6-year-old whether he wanted to live with his mother, he replied, "No." The display sickened me.

Less than 24 hours later, during the death rite, John Victor Stoen was seen sniffling and crying, "I don't want to die."

Despite a rebuke from Jones, he continued to cry and was led to his quarters by Annie Moore. He died there.

"I thought I could not wait until 20 years had passed -- not to get over it, because no one ever gets over something like this," Grace said recently. "I am [still] so stunned.... It's devastation."

The Jungle Reclaims Jonestown

In San Francisco, it seemed almost everyone knew someone touched by the tragedy -- and many people knew Fred Lewis. The tall, garrulous man with a soft voice and a hearty laugh worked for years behind the popular meat counter where my family shopped.

When his wife and children spent more and more time at the Peoples Temple on Geary Boulevard, Fred became alarmed. He felt them slipping into the grasp of a false prophet who stomped on the Bible and faked healings.

Then one day he returned home to find the house empty, everyone and almost everything gone. They had fled to what Jones called the Promised Land. Twenty-seven members of Fred's family died.

Now retired, he never misses the anniversary services. Sometimes he says a few words and thanks people for coming, for remembering his loved ones and for not forgetting all the pain caused by Jones. The words come from deep within his chest, never easily.

His niece, evangelist Jynona Norwood of Inglewood, does the preaching. She plans the program and pulls it off, year after year, bringing local Christian congregations. Her son, Eddie, has grown up before my eyes. The little boy who was dressed in a suit and given a few lines now is a 28-year-old man who delivers sermons of his own.

When Fred and Jynona heard that I went back to Guyana for the 10th anniversary, they wanted to know what had happened to a place they despised to their very souls:

When our plane circled overhead in 1988, Jonestown stood out as a light green scar on the dark jungle. Landing at Port Kaituma was rougher this time because the airstrip had been closed for safety reasons and grass had soared waist-high. It had the look of an abandoned battlefield.

The last three miles to Jonestown were little more than a footpath traipsed by jaguars. We rode the back of a coughing farm tractor while a villager clung to the hood, hacking thorny vines with a machete.

Looting, lightning fires and the jungle had erased Jonestown. But here and there we found artifacts -- a painted truck tire from the children's playground, a rusted tractor that may have been the one carrying the gunmen, a basketball standard, assorted machinery and a broken file cabinet from Jones' house. It chilled me to see rotted shoes and charred posts of the pavilion where so many died.

In the past decade, little has changed. A foreign lumber company was awarded a government lease to log in the area and a road was built making Jonestown more accessible. Our charter pilot, Jerry Gouveia, who helped evacuate Port Kaituma shooting victims in 1978, is urging the government to fence Jonestown as a memorial and a study area for academics.

And this year, news crews began flying back, sometimes bringing ex-temple members along.

One was Debbie Layton, whose brother Larry is serving a life sentence for conspiracy in the Ryan murder. She wants presidential clemency for him, before their 84-year-old father passes away, and recently wrote a book about her years in the temple.

Though Debbie had defected earlier, her mother died in Jonestown and was buried there just days before the end.

For Debbie, any spirits of its people have departed. "They're not there," she said. "They fled, if there is such a thing."

Reconciliation at Graveside

The daughter of Leo Ryan came to the services several years ago, and so did the son of the man who had him killed.

When Stephan Jones arrived, he positioned himself toward the rear of the lawn like an uninvited guest. Almost 6 1/2 feet tall, he wore a leather jacket and the gaze of an eagle. We embraced and exchanged small talk before services.

His attendance was a breakthrough -- symbolizing unification of relatives, defectors and survivors, some who live with old antagonisms. But it was the most natural thing in the world: Stephan had spent most of his life in the temple and loved the people buried here.

On the last days in 1978, he was in Georgetown playing a game for the temple basketball team. Some believe that if he had been in Jonestown, maybe, just maybe, he and his young allies -- and his mother Marceline -- could have stopped the madness. He also might have died trying.

Stephan condemned his father in the aftermath. And during many days of interviews, I began to know this sincere, intense, young man who had some of his father's presence and way with words, and his mother's heart.

Now, he is living in Marin County and working for a Bay Area office furniture business. He has been blessed with a daughter, who is 5.

"People say there is no way I would follow that guy," he said this week. "Part of Jim Jones ... was passionate, committed.... Some of what he did was gutsy, breaking away and integrating his church.... He was good and bad, and as time went on, the bad grew and the good diminished."

Stephan always has seemed most concerned that the people be remembered as basically good and caring. And he voiced devotion to his mother, whom I met during the last tour of Jonestown. She appeared particularly proud of the nursery where 33 babies were born, and she noted that 300 children lived in Jonestown -- a number that is impossible to forget.

"Mom was terrified about what might come of your visit," Stephan said. "She knew defections and bad press might send dad over the edge.... She was trying to get you out of there with smiles on your faces, so we could manage a bad situation. It may have been delusional.... "

Patricia Ryan -- now a vice president of the California Healthcare Assn. -- had her father's confident, straight-from-the-shoulder way of speaking, and his tenacity.

Her family had faced stinging irony on top of tragedy: Her sister Shannon had joined the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh sect in Oregon before it collapsed. And Patricia became a leader in the Cult Awareness Network.

On the 10th anniversary of Jonestown, she asked me to speak to a network gathering in Portland. Those days the Church of Scientology was protesting against the anti-cult group. Now the network has been bankrupted by lawsuits, and a Scientologist has purchased the name of the church's old nemesis.

Patricia does not think the lessons of Jonestown have sunk in, not even after Waco and Heaven's Gate. "I don't think politicians are any more aware now [of cults] or care to do anything because it's not an easy or expedient issue," she said. "I don't think young people even know what Jonestown was."

'There's No Relief'

Gale Robinson attended only one service. He hated even coming to the Bay Area from Burbank because he associated the place with his nightmare.

His only son Greg was a photographer for the San Francisco Examiner. Guyana was Greg's first overseas assignment, and he was thrilled to go. As we approached the San Francisco airport, he slipped parking money in the visor in case we returned separately.

In Guyana, we were inseparable, working as a team 24 hours a day, fighting obstacles thrown up by the government and the temple, then covering the rapidly deteriorating events in Jonestown. We became friends.

Greg came back in a flag-draped coffin, with his father bent over it, weeping.

"There is an old saying that time heals all wounds," Gale said last week. "There's no relief. We'll never have any grandchildren, like all my friends have. Jones has screwed up our whole family."

The only solace for Greg's family comes from the photographic images of a trip they abhor. Examiner proceeds from photos taken by Greg, and by me with his camera after he died, financed a memorial scholarship at his alma mater, San Francisco State University.

It is said to be the largest photojournalism scholarship in the country. But what matters to the Robinsons is that something good has come of something so bad. Greg was 27 -- not much older than the award winners -- when he died doing his job.

Quest for a Memorial

Over the years, ornate proclamations have been read to the mourners from mayors and the governor, all expressing sympathy and lamenting the tragedy.

Each reminds me how Jim Jones had collected tributes from politicians who later defended him or looked the other way when serious allegations were raised. He hoodwinked some by putting a spotlight on the temple's good deeds; others he won over by delivering campaign workers and votes.

One of the most ardent supporters was Assemblyman Willie Brown, now San Francisco's mayor. Another was George Moscone, who as San Francisco mayor rewarded Jones with an appointment to the city's Housing Authority commission.

When Jonestown exploded, Moscone became physically ill. He later called my family and others to express remorse, and he went to Ryan's funeral.

Within days, Moscone himself was assassinated along with Supervisor Harvey Milk by a political foe. Those killings are commemorated with annual candlelight events attended by thousands.

But Jonestown memorial services have yet to attract a decent crowd. All Fred Lewis and Jynona Norwood have wanted is a fitting tribute, a granite wall listing the names and ages of the victims. "I want people to see the ages so they know how young the people were," said Norwood. "It's all so horrible. Generations of our families are gone."

There have been periodic attempts to raise the $35,000 needed for the wall. And last year poet Maya Angelou agreed to write a dedication. But efforts keep collapsing.

The wall remains only a dream, like Jonestown.

Background

Peoples Temple, founded by the Rev. Jim Jones in Indiana, moved to California in the 1960s. The temple, affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, was a mixture of Pentecostalism and community activism. It operated food programs and care homes while building political clout. Press scrutiny over the temple's cult-like practices prompted an exodus to Guyana in 1977.

Tim Reiterman, state projects editor for The Times, covered the Peoples Temple for the San Francisco Examiner. He is the author with John Jacobs of "RAVEN: The Untold Story of The Rev. Jim Jones and His People." Copyright 1998 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved

Graphic Rule

Cults Remain Even After Jonestown
by Michelle Locke
Associated Press Writer

November 14, 1998

San Francisco (AP) -- Twenty years ago this month, Tim Stoen was holed up in hell.

He and his wife had gone to Guyana with U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan in one last attempt to retrieve their son, who had been claimed by cult leader Jim Jones as his own.

Waiting in Georgetown, their hope died as they heard that Ryan and four others had been shot to death in an ambush at the Jonestown airstrip.

They knew it was only a matter of time before Jones followed through his long-threatened mass murder-suicide.

"It was really a horrific night ... knowing at any moment that our son was going to be dead. It was utterly hopeless. If anything could remind you of hell, it would be that moment, that feeling," Stoen says.

More than 900 people died after Jones ordered his followers to drink cyanide-poisoned punch. Nearly one-third were children. Among them -- John Victor Stoen, age 6.

"The lesson for me is that every group ... has to make sure that they hold their leader to a set of standards, constantly hold that leader accountable," Stoen says.

Stoen, a former San Francisco prosecutor, had represented Jones in California and became a trusted member of the Peoples Temple.

Now in private practice in Colorado, Stoen remembers letting his enthusiasm over the good things, like seeing hard-core heroin addicts go straight, overwhelm his misgivings about the bad -- corporal punishment and thought control.

"I said, 'Look how altruistic, how socialistic the people are becoming. Yes, Jones is heavy-handed and he's idiosyncratic, but it's working.'"

Jynona Norwood was hiding in a San Francisco suburb 20 years ago. She had gone there with her young son, Ed, afraid Jones would sweep him off to Jonestown.

Her lesson from Jonestown: Beware of false prophets.

"I never believed that Jim ... was a minister from his heart," Norwood says. She was one of the few in her family to resist Jones' charm. Twenty-seven of her relatives, including her mother, died in Jonestown.

She believes that Jones, son of a Klansman but adopted father of a rainbow family, used interracial tolerance as a powerful recruiting tool for the poor blacks and privileged whites who flocked to his services.

"He knew that was the door into black folks' hearts and idealistic, altruistic white people who wanted to see the end of racism."

Norwood, now a Los Angeles pastor, helps organize yearly memorial services at the mass grave in Oakland where about 400 Jonestown victims are buried.

She is trying to raise funds for a wall to memorialize the dead and warn the living.

"They deserve to be remembered," she says. "They were our neighbors. They were our loved ones. They were our friends."

Twenty years ago, Jackie Speier was lying on a Guyana airstrip with five bullet wounds. An aide to U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, she had gone with him to investigate Jonestown.

She would go on to become a state assemblywoman. This month, she was elected to the state Senate.

If there is a lesson in Jonestown, it's that "the menace of cults still lingers; it's as real today as it was 20 years ago," Speier recently told the San Francisco Examiner. "No one should ever be so arrogant as to believe it couldn't happen again."

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

Graphic Rule