April 27, 2011, ABC-7 News, Laura Johnston Kohl, Jonestown survivor, shares her story, by Greta Kreuz,
One of the world's worst mass suicide 33 years ago took the lives of more than 900 people. One of the Jonestown survivors is from Rockville, Md., and she's sharing her story of survival in a book.
Bodies of victims of Jonestown mass suicide are loaded from U.S. Army helicopter at Georgetown's international airport, Nov. 23, 1977. More than 900 members of the Peoples Temple of Jonestown committed suicide drinking, or injected with, a cyanide-laced fruit drink at the urging of their cult founder, Pastor Jim Jones. Laura Johnston Kohl – who people here remember as Laura Reid -- said Jones seemed to embody social justice. She was young, idealistic and got caught up in the middle of it. Kohl is a 1965 graduate of Richard Montgomery high school. A political activist, she went to California, joined the Peoples Temple. She moved to the jungles of Guyana with Jones to build a new society, a utopia. "His message was 'we want to have fairness and equality and dignity right now," she said. Kohl said only a chosen few knew of Jones' dark side -- the drugs, the mistresses, the paranoia. "But they would practice for doomsday: "He had set it up that we all had juice, we all drank it, and then certain people would fall out of their chair as a way to show us it was really true. I thought it was just a joke," Kohl said. In 1973, Congressman Leo Ryan and other visitors were shot trying to leave the compound. Chilling FBI tapes recount Jones ordering his followers to drink the poison. Kohl was at the temple's house in Guyana's capital when the order came down to die. She refused. But her friend obeyed. "Sharon then went upstairs and killed herself and her three children in the bathroom," Kohl describes. "She slit all three throats and then her own." "I felt totally betrayed by him." Thirty years later, Kohl is a wife, mother and schoolteacher who's written a book. "Survivors were talked about as brainless, and sheep led to the slaughter," she said. "I want people to know that those of us who made the commitment, made the commitment because we wanted the world different -- we wanted it better." She'll be speaking at the following locations. Thurs. 4/28 7 pm @ William Penn House 515 East Capitol St. SE, Washington, D.C. Sat. 4/ 30 10 am @ Washington Friends Meeting House 2111 Florida Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. __________________________________________________________________________
March 22, 2010, iUniverse, Jonestown Survivor: An Insider's Look, by Laura Johnston Kohl, 200 pages, Amazon Price: $13.24
Laura Johnston Kohl joined Peoples Temple, and unbelievably survived when her friends died in Jonestown in November 1978. Always a political radical, this white woman was involved in and accepted by the Black Panthers. She returned to live in Synanon, become a parent, a teacher, a Quaker, and published author. Laura Johnston Kohl was a teen activist working to integrate public facilities in the Washington, D.C., area. She actively fought for civil rights and free speech, and against the Vietnam War throughout the 1960s. After trying to effect change single-handedly, she found she needed more hands. She joined Peoples Temple in 1970, living and working in the progressive religious movement in both California and Guyana. A fluke saved her from the mass murders and suicides on November 18, 1978, when 913 of her beloved friends died in Jonestown. Soon after this, Synanon, a residential community, helped her gradually affirm life. In 1991, she got to work, finished her studies, and became a public school teacher. On the 20th anniversary of the deaths in Jonestown, she looked up fellow survivors of the Jonestown tragedy and they have worked to put the jigsaw puzzle together that was Peoples Temple. Her perspective has evolved as new facts have cleared up mysteries and she has had time to reflect. Her mission continues to be to acknowledge, write about, and speak about why the members joined Peoples Temple, why they went to Guyana, and who they were. She lives with her family in San Diego. Biography When 914 members of Peoples Temple and four visiting Americans died in Guyana, South America on November 18, 1978, Laura Johnston Kohl survived. She was one of 87 who lived through the trauma. Laura moved into Peoples Temple in California in 1970, and was an active and enthusiastic member until the day it ended. She moved to Guyana in March 1977. She frequently traveled between Georgetown and Jonestown, a 24-hour boat ride, but moved into Jonestown in early 1978. Laura's survival was a fluke. It took twenty years for Laura to rebuild her life and have the determination to research how this tragedy could have happened. She reunited with many of the other survivors to put the puzzle pieces together and to get some understanding. It took her another ten years to write her autobiography about her whole live. Today, Laura has frequent contact with her fellow survivors, and she is a parent, a Quaker, an activist, a public speaker, and a teacher. ______________________________________________________________________________ March 21, 2010, YouTube Video - 4:01 Utopia Lost: Laura Johnston Kohl and the People's Temple, Produced & Edited by Bill Perrine,
Uploaded on Mar 21, 2010
People's Temple member Laura Johnston Kohl was in Georgetown, Guyana buying supplies for the Jonestown settlement when 913 members of the temple committed suicide or were murdered at the behest of leader Jim Jones. She currently lives in San Marcos, Ca where she works as a teacher. She remains active in political and social causes and is Clerk of the Peace and Social Order Committee with the Quakers in La Jolla. Her book, Jonestown Survivor: An Insider's Look, is forthcoming. This video is part of the series Faith in Action from the Media Arts Center San Diego.
When I went to Guyana, I never planned to ever come back. So I don't have any question that I would have died.
"We were trying to make a totally Utopian community." Laura Johnston Kohl
I was never religious in my whole life. I wasn't that interested in pursuing why. All I knew was, you, know, I had stuff to do in my life. So I just pursued doing what I needed to do.
In 1970 I was divorced from my husband. I came out to California to kind of, ah, calm down a little bit and figure out the next steps in my life. When I moved into San Francisco, within three days I went up to see Jim Jones in Redwood Valley, and so my life took a whole other direction.
It was totally interracial family. He was always at the front, you know, at the front lines of any kind of issues that had to do with racial integration and stopping prejudice. Everything that Jim stood for was really important to me. I just didn't know if I could live the lifestyle yet. And pretty soon after that, I had a ... I met a guy in the Temple who was exactly what I was looking for, you know. He was a former heroin addict. He'd just gotten out of prison. He was like a bad boy, just exactly what I wanted, when I thought, you know, this is great---it's everything I'd always wanted, and I had Jim to watch over it and kind of make sure it was safe.
One of the things you hardly ever see about Jim was he was totally a thespian. He was an actor. And when he gave...at any meeting he would be, you know, totally political, and totally religious---people would just pick the part that made sense to them.
Because he followed politically where I was, I really felt that was where his heart was. He wanted to make people actually have what they needed on earth---have a heaven on earth.
We started getting the reports in, um, the Guyanese Defense Force, and on the radio, saying, OK, well, they found 300 bodies, and so we were hoping that, you know, the other 700 people had escaped, and it turned out that everybody had killed themselves.