“Revolutionary”: That was the word Jim Jones used to describe the mass suicide he had planned for his followers at his eponymous compound in northern Guyana in 1978.
“If we can’t live in peace, then let’s die in peace,” the reverend — who had descended from a beloved religious figure to a controlling cult leader — preached to the fellow members of the Peoples Temple, insisting that they were being closed in on by the U.S. government.
The only way out, Jones said, was death.
“He had them bring up the barrels with the poisoning, which they called Kool-Aid. So they brought it up here and he said, ‘We’ve put the cyanide in the Kool-Aid. It’s not going to taste bad,’ ” recalls Jerry Parks in the PeopleTV special Escape from Jonestown — 40 Years Later.
“And that’s when he was asking the question: Who will commit suicide?”
• Watch the full episode of People Crime: Escape From Jonestown — 40 Years Later, streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.
Parks, along with his daughters Brenda and Tracy, were three of just three dozen survivors of the eventual massacre at Jonestown, which killed more than 900, the vast majority from drinking poisoned grape punch.
Among the dead were 304 children, including those who ingested the laced mixture by force — their parents squirting syringes down their throats.
“A lot of people over there were at the point, I think, tired, wore out and knew they weren’t ever going to get out of there,” Jerry says in the PeopleTV special.
“That’s how you keep people from knowing what they want to do in their head,” Tracy explains. “You keep them exhausted.”
Still, Jones did not manage to wipe out all of those who followed him.
Speaking out to PEOPLE after so many years, Tracy says, is a way to keep the memory alive of those who did not survive. She says the dead were victims of murder, not suicide: “Those children didn’t want to die and neither did many of the adults.”
“When I was a little girl, I used to stare at this sign [Jones] had nailed up over his chair in church that read, ‘Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,’ ” Tracy says. “I didn’t understand what that meant back then, but I do now. And that’s why I keep talking. If I keep quiet, Jim Jones wins.”
People Crime: Escape From Jonestown — 40 Years Later is streaming now.