35 Years Later, Remains of Jonestown Victims Found

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

35 Years Later, Remains of Jonestown Victims Found


Byline: RANDALL CHASE Associated Press

DOVER, Del. -- Thirty-five years ago, funeral directors in Delaware struggled to quickly bury and cremate the remains of more than 900 people who died in a suicide-murder in Jonestown, Guyana, many of them Peoples Temple followers who drank cyanide-laced punch.

Some bodies that arrived back in the U.S. at Dover Air Force Base in 1978 were claimed by families. Some were cremated. Others were buried in a mass grave in California.

On Thursday, officials revealed that not all had been brought to a final resting place. The cremated remains of nine Jonestown victims were discovered in a decrepit, now-shuttered funeral home in Dover, officials said. The discovery reopened wounds.

"All the survivors in touch with me are traumatized because that door had been closed," said Jonestown survivor Laura Johnston Kohl, now a retired teacher from San Diego.

"Whatever journey the ashes took in the U.S. is secondary. The first issue is how do we settle it to make sure the ashes are where they belong ... at Evergreen where everybody is," she said, referring to the cemetery that is the site of the mass grave.

Hundreds of children and a U.S. congressman died at Jonestown, and 911 decomposing bodies were brought to Dover Air Force Base, home to the U.S. military's largest mortuary. The base has handled mass casualties of both military personnel and civilians from wars, the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the NASA Challenger and Columbia space shuttle missions.

As the bodies were identified, the military asked about a half-dozen local funeral homes to help the families make arrangements.

Last week, though, the ashes of nine victims were found neatly packaged and clearly marked, with the names of the deceased and place of their death included on accompanying death certificates, the Delaware Division of Forensic Science said Thursday. No names were released publicly because relatives hadn't been notified.

"It's just so sad, for me as a survivor," said Yulanda Williams, 58, now a sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department. Williams spent a decade with the Peoples Temple, including three months in Jonestown, named after the group's founder, Jim Jones. She left with her 8-month-old daughter before the massacre.

"You consistently wind up finding yourself trying to heal but having your wounds opened up again when new information is given," she said. …

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