JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Helps Find Homes for Cremated Jonestown Friends


On Thursday morning, August 7, 2014, I got a heartbreaking email. It started like this:
“I pray this email finds you, I have also attempted to connect with you on Facebook®. My name is James Patton, I am a forensic Investigator for the Delaware State Medical Examiner. On 7/31/2014 I was called to respond to an abandon funeral home in Dover Delaware where 38 boxes of cremated remains were found, 9 of which were victims of the Jonestown incident in 1978.”

I immediately emailed him back. I was extremely impressed that he had pursued this investigation.
Nothing was easy. The deaths in Jonestown took place thirty-five years ago, and had overwhelmed us all. Nobody was set up in 1978 to cope with that kind of large-scale disaster with Americans, on a foreign soil. And, in addition, the tragedy of 918 deaths by poison and murder was unimaginable. Details were not handled well, and, having the bodies shipped to Dover Air Force in Delaware complicated things even more. Almost all of us in Peoples Temple were from the West Coast. In general, around the country, and in California especially, no politician or leader wanted to take on the huge responsibility of sorting out what should be done. Finally, Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland came to the rescue and agreed to take all of the remaining bodies, after families had claimed their loved ones.

And then, yesterday morning, I got the email. Mr. Patton had googled the name of Maud Perkins (one of the members whose remains were discovered) on the Jonestown Institute website. About four years ago, I wrote a Remembrance about Maud. So, my name came up and Mr. Patton tracked me down. Next, he sent me this kind email.

That started a very emotional and busy process of finding the living family members in order to return these remains. After first being really saddened and shocked, I started figuring out how to find the relatives. I didn’t have the slightest doubt that we survivors could come up with the information.

On November 18, 1978, there were roughly 80 survivors. Over the past thirty-five years about twenty-five have died. I am in touch with about 60 survivors, people who had left Peoples Temple over the years, and close family members. We are the best of friends and are in contact several times a year. Many of us come to Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland on November 18 each year, from all parts of the country.

I contacted the first group of about twelve survivors, we were able to locate four of the families. We have five to go. Next, I sent the list of five remaining names to all of the 60 people I am in contact with. I am sure that within the next few days, we will be able to find family members and get the remains to them.

We survivors were caught off-guard, and saddened that the remains were just abandoned for that period of time. But, it turned out that a lot of good things have come out of this whole recent experience. As one survivor put it, the ashes were there, not lost or destroyed. They came back to us to take care of. One man was reunited with a physical reminder about his wife, and he greatly appreciated that. Another relative of a family that died in Jonestown was able to meet up with a cousin who survived. Those remains that are not reunited with family will be taken care of by the survivors in some dignified way, which we will work out. And finally, we were reminded along the way that we can certainly take care of business with the special friends we made long ago in Peoples Temple.

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