The Truth About Jonestown and What All Cults Have in Common

“His message was incredibly violent as time went on. And it was erratic,” Stephan recalled. “If we weren’t having an open meeting where he was trying to bring in new members, we were having closed meetings where he was trying to control the members.”

Jim Jr., who later remarried and has three sons, explained how his journey differed from Stephan’s, largely because as a kid he was just so grateful to have been adopted into their family. “I was a true believer,” he said. “When I say true believer, I believed in all the things that Peoples Temple could have been.” 

He recalled being reluctant to teach his eldest boy basketball, because the game reminded him only of the night when so many people died but he survived. His son ended becoming a star player in high school, though, and Jim Jr. started coaching. “It was for so long I was known as Jim Jones’ son,” he said. “And it wasn’t until Rob started playing that I started being known as Rob’s dad.”

Stephan lamented, “There were many times that we probably could have steered things in a different direction. We could have put a stop to what happened long before that final night, and we didn’t get it done. For me it was because I was too focused on myself and not enough on my community and what was best for them. In much more simpler terms, it’s just that I wasn’t there when they died. I don’t know what I would have done or could have done.”

As part of his own healing process, he made it his mission to identify every Peoples Temple member who showed up in photographs taken at Jonestown. “If there was even one person whose name I could not recall, I set that photo aside and I continued on and I’d do whatever I had to, to remember that one person,” he explained. “May seem like a small thing, you know given the devastation of Jonestown, but that’s where I found my healing.”