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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
ESCAPE FROM JONESTOWN
Aired November 17, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the way Jonestown looked the day it died -- November 18, 1978.
REV. JIM JONES: Die with a degree of dignity. Lay down your life with dignity.
O'BRIEN: ...a self-proclaimed religious paradise in Guyana in South America carved out of the jungle by Jim Jones, a man who called himself God.
JONES: How very much I've loved you. How very much I've tried my best to give you the good life.
O'BRIEN: Who convinced his followers to kill their children and then kill themselves.
JONES: Let us be done with it. Let's be done with the agony of it.
O'BRIEN: Drinking a Kool-Aid type fruit punch laced with deadly cyanide.
JONES: This is something to put you to rest. Oh, God.
O'BRIEN: Thirty years later, in a place where words could kill and did, there is silence -- an empty field, the people gone, almost no trace of their lives or dreams.
(on camera): This is the site of Jonestown's open air meeting hall, where I'm standing right now, where the Reverend Jim Jones led his followers into the worst mass murder and suicide pact in America's history. Only small golden flowers grow where bodies once lay.
On that fateful morning, there were more than 940 people living in Jonestown. By nightfall, only 33 would still be alive. For most of the few who did survive, it took incredible courage to defy Jim Jones and step away. This is their story -- one of desperation and daring, and, in the end, a story of human triumph amid horrible tragedy.
LESLIE WILSON: It was a slave camp ran by a mad man with a huge ego. O'BRIEN: As a young mother, Leslie Wilson went to Guyana because her husband had taken their son there. In Jonestown, she found not enough food, not enough sleep, too much fear.
WILSON: For me to think I was going to see the age of 21 was a miracle. I didn't think I was going to see 21.
O'BRIEN: She recoiled the first time Jim Jones called together Peoples Temple members for a suicide drill.
WILSON: And I remember him looking at me and me looking away. Please don't ask me to do this, because we really didn't know if it was real or not.
O'BRIEN: On the last morning, she said she wanted to take her child on a picnic and started on a day-long trek to a town 30 miles away.
WILSON: Everyone can look up and see us walking. And I was just shaking, I was so, so frightened.
O'BRIEN: For years, Leslie Wilson would not let anyone know she was a Jonestown survivor.
WILSON: Because I would sit at the table sometimes at work or whatever and they would talk about Jonestown. I didn't say a word. I mean I lived under a veil of secrecy for 20 something years.
O'BRIEN: Vernon Gosney, now a policeman in Hawaii, remembers Jonestown as an armed camp, supposedly to guard against outsiders.
VERNON GOSNEY: But many of the times, the guns were pointed toward us.
O'BRIEN: Gosney wanted to leave as soon as he arrived, but couldn't until a California Congressman, Leo Ryan, came to Guyana in the fall of '78 on a one man investigative mission.
GOSNEY: I had decided I was going to pass a note asking for help to escape.
O'BRIEN: By that next afternoon, as Gosney dragged his trunk toward a departing truck, more than a dozen others had decided to go.
GOSNEY: I thought I was going to die at any moment. I never thought that I would ever be permitted to leave.
O'BRIEN: When the group reached the small airport nearby, gunmen opened fire.
GOSNEY: There was blood everywhere and I thought I'm dying. And then I blacked out.
O'BRIEN: That same day, Gerald Parks, seen here in the blue and white shirt talking with Jim Jones, sensed it was his last chance to get his family out. JERRY PARKS, JONESTOWN SURVIVOR: You can feel death in the air. You can actually feel it.
O'BRIEN: The Parks family asked to fly back with Congressman Ryan's group.
J. PARKS: And I told him who I was. And I said we've been held prisoner here.
O'BRIEN: At the airport, a tractor pulled a farm wagon up alongside their plane.
J. PARKS: About five or six guys stood up and poured their guns up and started firing at us. I heard my mom holler, "My God, look at Patty."
O'BRIEN: Jerry Parks' wife was killed. So was Congressman Ryan and three newsmen. Parks ordered his daughter Tracy, her older sister and three other youths to run for safety into the jungle.
TRACY PARKS: We ran too far. And, of course, it's so thick that like once you get so far, you can't -- you get lost in your direction.
J. PARKS: Before night came, we went back to the jungle and started hollering for the kids. And no response. And I thought oh, my God, don't tell me they're lost.
TIM CARTER: I was the organizer. Anything that needed organizing, they gave to Carter.
O'BRIEN: Tim Carter, seen here in '78, was a trusted aide to Jim Jones. He saw Jonestown through different eyes.
CARTER: It was beautiful. I mean there's something about nature. You know, being in the jungle, it was beautiful.
O'BRIEN: Carter stayed almost to the end. He saw the gunmen come back from the airport.
CARTER: The tractor-trailer that had come from the air strip came up behind and stopped at the kitchen and these guys jumped out. Buckhi (ph) said, "We've got the congressman."
O'BRIEN: That's when the Reverend Jim Jones told his people this would be the day they'd have to die.
JONES: The congressman is dead. Please get us some medication. It's simple. It's simple. There's no convulsions with it. It's just simple. Just please get it.
O'BRIEN: The children were killed first. Tim Carter saw his 1- year-old son poisoned.
CARTER: And Malcolm was dead, his little lips covered with foam, which is what happens with arsenic and cyanide as it foams at the mouth. O'BRIEN: He held his wife as she died.
CARTER: I put my arms around Gloria as she was holding Malcolm and just kept on sobbing, "I love you so much. I love you so much."
O'BRIEN: Carter lived only because he was sent away on a final errand. He came close to shooting himself that night.
CARTER: And I knew that I would never get the sounds and the smells and the sights of Jonestown out of my mind ever again.
O'BRIEN: So few survived Jonestown -- for most, only by determination borne of desperation; for others, by a twist of circumstance.
Over the next two hours, we will follow the lives of these survivors, then and now.
ESCAPE FROM JONESTOWN continues.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The Reverend Jim Jones left no doubt as to who he thought he was.
JONES: When I say I'm God, then I feel (INAUDIBLE) in my soul. And I see better than you. And I see the sick healed and the blind see and the dead raised.
O'BRIEN: In truth, he was a liar, a charlatan, a phony faith healer. This from that same sermon in 1972, talking about a 90-year- old with a bad leg.
JONES: His leg was healed instantaneously because he saw me as God, God, God, God, God, God, God.
O'BRIEN: Watch this woman, who Jones said had a broken leg.
JONES: You'll see her walk on this leg like nothing was ever broken.
O'BRIEN: A helper cuts through the cast.
JONES: Now, the leg was broken yesterday?
O'BRIEN: Jones asks if she feels any pain.
JONES: Now jump up and down real quick! Jump up and down real quick! No pain whatsoever. Thank you. J. PARKS: They traveled around the country and held these meetings, pulled these fake healings and fake miracles, and people, man, would shell out money like you wouldn't believe.
O'BRIEN: This is Jerry Parks as he looked back then. He was fooled for years.
J. PARKS: But it was all through lies and fake healings and all the stuff. The man was fake. I know now that he was fake from the beginning.
O'BRIEN: By his own account, Jim Jones was born on the wrong side of the tracks, in a small Indiana town in the Depression years. At 21, Jones became a student pastor by taking a correspondence course. Within a few years, he had started his own church in Indianapolis, named it Peoples Temple and opened its doors to African- Americans.
He and his wife Marceline became an interracial family through adoption and embraced racial harmony in an era that resisted it. But even then, Jones preached of catastrophe.
J. PARKS: At that time, the Cold war was going on. And he was yelling a bomb was going to fall and there would be a nuclear war.
O'BRIEN: In the mid-'60s, Jones moved his church outside the town of Ukiah in Northern California.
J. PARKS: So he got this revelation somehow to come to Ukiah, California. And there was a cave out here.
O'BRIEN: A cave in the hills around Redwood Valley that would shield everyone from nuclear fallout.
J. PARKS: I know now as sure as I'm sitting here -- and I knew, you know, I have for a long time, there was no such place. It was all one of his lies.
O'BRIEN: Jones built this church and offered sanctuary there -- a safety net to the elderly and poor, usually blacks from the inner city. They signed over their Social Security checks and the Peoples Temple cared for them for the rest of their lives.
J. PARKS: He built this whole thing on the premise of brotherhood, economic equality and a world where no babies go to bed hungry.
O'BRIEN: Jerry Parks and his family followed Jones from the Midwest out to Ukiah in 1966. Jerry got a job in a supermarket.
J. PARKS: He started talking about everybody giving 25 percent of their income. I sat down one time and figured after I got back how much money I gave that man. And it was around $76,000.
O'BRIEN: His youngest daughter, Tracy, learned to fear Jones when she started school and was told to stay away from other children. T. PARKS: If you got caught talking to people that were not affiliated with the church, then you would be in trouble for that.
O'BRIEN: Trouble at Jim Jones' Wednesday night meetings. He called them catharsis -- the purging of evil.
T. PARKS: So I was scared to do anything wrong, because I was scared I was going to be called up and be beaten.
O'BRIEN: Leslie Wilson was 13 when she first encountered the Peoples Temple and the hold it had on members.
(on camera): What happened in the catharsis?
WILSON: If you were doing something incorrectly, which nine times out of 10 someone would find something that you did incorrectly, you would be called to the floor and disciplined.
WILSON: Either by a paddle...
O'BRIEN: You were hit?
WILSON: ...being spanked. Um-hmm.
O'BRIEN: In front of the whole church?
WILSON: Oh, yes.
O'BRIEN: Grown people?
WILSON: Oh, yes.
O'BRIEN: Who did the spanking?
WILSON: Whoever he deemed to do it.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Her mother joined the Peoples Temple as a haven, where Leslie's sister, Michelle, on the right, could get help for her drug problems. As a minister, Leslie said, Jim Jones could be spellbinding.
WILSON: He could quote scripture and turn around and preach socialism. He appealed to anyone on any level at any time.
O'BRIEN: Even so, racial equality came with exceptions.
WILSON: The majority of the congregation was African-American.
O'BRIEN (on camera): The people who ran the church, the leadership, were they majority African-American? WILSON: No. They were majority Caucasian.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The dark side of Jim Jones was always there. (on camera): What did you have to call him?
O'BRIEN: Like he was god?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Jones would boast openly in church about his sexual couplings with both women and men.
WILSON: For me, sitting there listening to it, I thought it was insane. And I don't understand, Soledad, why my mother didn't grab our hands and run like crazy when he spoke about having sex with men and women in the pulpit. I don't know what drove her to stay. I'll never have that question answered.
O'BRIEN: Just ahead, rehearsing suicide.
CARTER: Five minutes later, Jones says you've all just been poisoned. You have an hour to live.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
O'BRIEN: This is the Peoples Temple membership, now numbering in the hundreds in Redwood Valley, California in the '70s. By then, Tim Carter was already getting an early taste of how it would all end.
CARTER: We had a very small vineyard on the ranch in Redwood Valley. And they said, hey, grapes would come in from the ranch and we'd have some wine, does everybody want some wine?
And so each of us got this Styrofoam cup with about three quarters of -- three quarters filled with wine, drank the wine and like five minutes later, Jones says, you've all just been poisoned. You have an hour to live.
O'BRIEN: It was a test for Jim Jones' trusted inner circle. They did not panic or resist.
CARTER: Now, when I look back on that whole thing now, you know, do you -- do you think that might have been the wake-up call that it was time to get out of Dodge?
Yes, absolutely. I should have been. I should have been gone the next day.
O'BRIEN: Carter stayed on. He was a Marine vet who survived some of the worst fighting in Vietnam. He came home bitter -- a cynic, a hippie -- and joined the Peoples Temple in 1973. That same year, Jim Jones reached a deal in Guyana to begin clearing land in the jungle for a future settlement he would call Jonestown. Jones chose Guyana because its government was socialist, its people black and English- speaking. It is a small country, not even a million people, on the north coast of South America.
JONES: Beautiful promised land.
O'BRIEN: Beautiful promised land -- those were Jones' words for his creation -- a place where he and his people could practice socialism, live in harmony and answer only to themselves.
GOSNEY: We wanted to have a better world, you know, a better society, one without racism, sexism, ageism -- economic equality for people.
O'BRIEN: Verne Gosney joined the church in California about that same time. He and his wife, an interracial couple, were welcome.
GOSNEY: The Peoples Temple was a rich tapestry of people. They were people who had survived adverse situations -- racism, discrimination -- just very difficult lives. And they had triumphed to that point.
O'BRIEN: In 1975, Jones moved his church headquarters from Redwood Valley down to San Francisco, to a larger stage, where he became a political force and a face in photo-ops.
GOSNEY: Roslyn Carter was campaigning for Jimmy Carter. I believe that was 1976. And there was going to be a rally downtown. Literally, we stuffed the building. We were -- we were the rally.
O'BRIEN: This photo of Tim Carter with the woman he loved, Gloria, was taken at the Golden Gate Bridge during another public appearance.
CARTER: When Jim Jones was asked to give the benediction for the new suicide prevention barrier that had been erected...
O'BRIEN: That's right -- only a year before Jonestown took its own life, Jim Jones was praying over a suicide prevention barrier. In that summer of 1977, Jones was facing increasing criticism from some members who fled the church because they no longer believed in Jones. When "New West" magazine published an expose article about church beatings, Jim Jones suddenly decided to leave the country.
He began putting his flock on planes to South America by the dozens, day after day. Teenagers and young children were among the first to go. Parents followed.
WILSON: I got a phone call that said it's time for you to go. And this voice entered my head that said if you don't go now, you will never see your child again.
O'BRIEN: Leslie Wilson had become pregnant at 18. This is her son, Jakari. The father took the boy to Guyana first, so Leslie followed.
(on camera): What was it like in Guyana? Beautiful?
WILSON: Not paradise, by any means.
O'BRIEN: Did it feel like you were in captivity?
WILSON: Oh, right away. Right away. Your passports were taken right away, seized.
O'BRIEN: And this did not raise red flags -- or it did?
WILSON: It did. But what you knew, I mean, I can't -- in your heart of hearts, you had to know that you -- there was no way out. There was no way out.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Tim Carter praised Jonestown in this testimonial.
CARTER: It's beautiful. I can't -- I've never been so totally happy or fulfilled in my life.
O'BRIEN: As long as he was not being eaten up by bugs. You could see him scratching the bites.
These are home movies made by Jim Jones to attract church members to his namesake.
JONES: American bananas are nothing like these.
O'BRIEN: He showed off the supplies.
JONES: Flour, flour, rice, black-eyed peas.
O'BRIEN: And then this.
O'BRIEN: Kool-Aid. The reality of Jonestown -- hard work, long hours, too much heat, too little sleep, and, as Leslie Wilson remembers, meager food.
WILSON: Dinner was rice and gravy and sometimes a soup with chicken feet sticking out.
O'BRIEN: She wrote this letter to a friend there in Jonestown.
WILSON: I now feel as if my whole being is worthless here.
I am 21 years old and my life will surely consist of nothing more than it does now.
O'BRIEN: At the bottom she wrote...
WILSON: Destroy this now.
O'BRIEN: But at a Wednesday catharsis meeting...
WILSON: My letter was being read by Jim in front of the whole congregation. And if I could have crawled in that Guyanese soil and dug a hole so deep, I would have done that. I was just in fear.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Your best friend turned you in?
WILSON: My best friend turned me in.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): As punishment, Leslie was placed on a hard work detail. For her, the promised land was a failure.
WILSON: We're not going to make a difference in the world because no one knew about us. No one cared. We were just this bunch of folks living in the jungle, surviving.
O'BRIEN (on camera): The utopia was a hoax?
WILSON: It was a hoax. And that realization itself was overwhelming.
O'BRIEN: When we return, a secret plan to kill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cyanide is one of the most rapidly acting poisons. I'd like to give about two grams to a large pig to see how effective our batch is.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon, with an update on your top story. Israel inching closer to a ground war in Gaza, with 30,000 troops mobilizing for a potentially devastating campaign. For four days, Israel has pounded Gaza with air strikes, potentially softening up Palestinian militants for an invasion.
But Hamas is hitting back, firing rockets at random into Israel, hoping for a hit. Israelis can only wait for this sound: a screeching siren that warns of the rocket's approach. Hamas military wing says it shot down an Israeli F-16 and damaged two other Israeli air craft. Israel denies losing any aircraft. Israeli military is urging all of the cutting edge weaponry at its disposable -- using all of the weaponry at its disposal. Here is a missile hit that Israel says is the home of a Hamas leader. Those are your headlines this hour, I'm Don Lemon, keeping your informed. CNN, the most trusted name in news.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN (voice over): As soon as Jerry Parks arrived at the entrance to Jonestown in the spring of 1978 with his wife and youngest daughter, he saw guards with guns. * JERRY PARKS, FORMER MEMBER, PEOPLES TEMPLE AGRICULTURAL PROJECT: I've seen those armed guards. That's when my heart fell. I knew then, and half way until I got in Jonestown, I knew then I had made the biggest mistake of my life.
O'BRIEN: Reverend Jim Jones' home movies helped lure Parks and his family to Guyana.
J. PARKS: It was going to be a city right in the middle of a jungle and made it sound like really a paradise.
O'BRIEN: Instead, he found...
J. PARKS: Hell on earth.
O'BRIEN: Jerry Parks complained about the heat, the food, the confinement.
J. PARKS: Life don't get any worse than that. That was literally a jungle prison.
O'BRIEN: In front of the congregation Jim Jones told Parks...
JONES: The only other thing you can do is either adjust and walk through the jungle and it's meet snakes and panthers and all that shit if one wants to do that, and guns and be arrested by the police and be put into a federal penitentiary.
O'BRIEN: Jones would punish Parks.
J. PARKS: He called me upfront and he says, "I hear you want to go back home," and he started beating on me. He had two or, three security that were karate experts hammering on me pretty good.
O'BRIEN: Parks was put on a hard work crew out in the hot sun digging ditches. In Jonestown even his 11-year-old daughter Tracy Parks got up for work before dawn each day.
TRACY PARKS, JERRY PARK'S DAUGHTER: I had to work in the rice fields. I had to use a big machete or the big rake that had the knife at the bottom and you had to cut the grass down.
O'BRIEN: One day she went to the infirmary with an ear ache.
T. PARKS: And they looked in there and pulled out a cockroach the size of my -- like half of my thumb, huge.
O'BRIEN: Tracy Parks saw no future in Jonestown.
T. PARKS: I knew that in the first month there I'm stuck here and that I'm most likely going to die here. O'BRIEN: Verne Gosney came a month after the Parks. He brought his 4-year-old son Mark. His wife had fallen into a coma during childbirth and never came out. Gosney sank into a haze of drugs.
VERGE GOSNEY, FORMER MEMBER, PEOPLES TEMPLE AGRICULTURAL PROJECT: I did use heroin. I used amphetamines. I used cocaine, marijuana, LSD.
O'BRIEN: He came to Jonestown to get cleaned and did.
GOSNEY: Their idea of a drug treatment was, you know, work your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and if you mess up, beat your ass. I mean, that's their drug treatment program.
O'BRIEN: He soon found Jim Jones controlled everything.
GOSNEY: It's a dictatorship. It was supposed to be a socialism but it really was fascism.
O'BRIEN: Jones' own words.
JONES: This organization is built upon the dictatorship and (INAUDIBLE), and I am, God damn it, very much in control.
O'BRIEN: But Jonestown was failing. Not much grew in the fields. Most food had to be shipped in. Jim Jones had begun to talk about another move, to communist Russia.
(singing) Long live this socialist dream!
O'BRIEN: Church members were told to learn a new language.
J. PARKS: You had to say something in Russian before you could get anything to eat. Little old ladies coming up, older people, elderly people, you know, couldn't -- they couldn't memorize anything and he'd turn them away.
O'BRIEN: Yet unknown to Parks, unknown to Gosney or almost anyone outside the inner circle, Jones was already preparing for their death.
This is a memo written to Jones by the Peoples Temple doctor six months before the mass suicide. It reads in part...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cyanide is one of the most rapidly acting poisons. I would like to give about two grams to a large pig to see how effective our batch is.
O'BRIEN: The test apparently was never carried out, but that's not the point.
(On camera): While in Guyana we made a startling discovery. The church had been buying cyanide long before most of the members arrived here in Jonestown. CNN has learned that for at least two years the church was buying a quarter pound of the deadly poison each month. By the time Congressman Ryan first began raising questions about Jonestown six pounds or more of cyanide had already been shipped here, strong evidence that the Reverend Jim Jones had been plotting the death of his followers long before that fateful day.
(Voice over): We're told Jonestown had obtained a jeweler's license to buy the cyanide which can be used to clean gold, but there was no jewelry operation in Jonestown.
In that last year Jones never left the jungle camp, a prisoner of his own making, hiding from a court custody fight over this young boy he claimed he sired by another man's wife. Jones would summon his people to mass meetings they called white nights and rant about suicide if under attack by the CIA or the Guyanese army or other unknown forces.
JONES: If you're not prepared to die for your children, you will not stand up for your children.
O'BRIEN: For months Jones would tell parents their children might have to die.
JONES: And at some point you will sacrifice your children. You have to make that commitment.
O'BRIEN: At one meeting Jones tried to get Jerry Parks to promise to kill his daughter Tracy if the camp were invaded.
JONES: How old is your child?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 11.
JONES: We fight at 11, unless it came to an overwhelming invasion, then we would gently put them to sleep, which we have and they'd never know what had hit them. We've already prepared for that.
J. PARKS: And I thought you know what, am I the only one in this cotton picking group that's got the guts to stand up and say no, I don't want to commit suicide?
O'BRIEN: From that moment on Jerry Parks said he knew he had to get his family out.
J. PARKS: I knew those white nights he was having was fake at the time, but I also knew that one day one of them would not be fake.
O'BRIEN: Next, running away from death.
LESLIE WILSON, FORMER MEMBER, PEOPLES TEMPLE AGRICULTURAL PROJECT: I was horrified. I was so, so scared.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: In mid-November 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan flew to South America to see Jonestown for himself.
REP. LEO RYAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm from the United States government, and we're here to inquire into the health and the welfare of American citizens who are here.
O'BRIEN: A number of Ryan's California constituents were complaining that relatives were being held captive.
His legal aide Jackie Speier, who made the trip with Ryan, was worried about Ryan's own safety.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER, D-CALIFORNIA, FORMER REP. LEO RYAN'S LEGAL AIDE: I placed his will, which I had custody of, in my top desk drawer.
O'BRIEN: Reverend Jim Jones was worried some of his followers might try to leave. He warned the members.
JONES: See if you can make it to any railway and see if you can get to any passport. Try. I dare you to try. You don't know who you're talking to. Just because I don't use the language of the church, I am that which they call God.
O'BRIEN: That audio tape, like many others, was found later in the radio room of Jonestown, recovered by the FBI.
JONES: I will see you in the grave, many of you.
O'BRIEN: By now Jones was deep into drugs himself. An autopsy would show so much barbiturate abuse, it should have killed him.
Church member Verne Gosney.
GOSNEY: I do know what a person sounds like when they are very impaired from either drugs or alcohol, and he was. At one point he -- he actually needed help walking.
O'BRIEN: The day before Congressman Ryan arrived, Jones said this.
JONES: I'm going to shoot them in the ass like (ph) him (ph) so bad so long, that I'm not passing this opportunity up. I don't care whether I see Christmas or Thanksgiving, neither one. They don't either.
O'BRIEN: When Ryan entered Jonestown that Friday, Leslie Wilson was waiting for the first chance to run away.
WILSON: I remember going to the kitchen and grabbing a butcher knife and sticking it down the front of my pants.
O'BRIEN: Jonestown put on a musical extravaganza that first night in this open-air pavilion.
O'BRIEN: An NBC news camera team accompanied Congressman Ryan. You're watching their footage.
RYAN: I can tell you right now that from the few conversations that I've had with some of the folks here already this evening that whatever the comments are, there are some people here who believe that this is the best thing that ever happened in their whole life.
O'BRIEN: The cheering lasted more than a minute.
Desperate to leave, Verne Gosney mistook NBC reporter Don Harris in the blue for a Ryan aide.
GOSNEY: I tucked a note in his elbow as he walked by, and the note dropped to the -- to the ground, and I picked it up and gave it back to him and told him you dropped something, and a small boy then shouted, you know, he passed a note, he passed a note.
O'BRIEN: It said, "Help us get out of Jonestown."
WILSON: When I heard that I think Verne Gosney had passed a note that he wanted to leave, we were just like oh, my god.
O'BRIEN: As word spread, tension grew. Time was running out on Jonestown for all the children and everyone else. Yet their last night on earth would end in song.
Jones forced the reporters to leave and go back to the nearby town of Port Kaituma. Ryan and his aide Jackie Speier spent the night in Jonestown.
SPEIER: And I was awake a good part of the night thinking how quickly can we get out of here tomorrow?
O'BRIEN: Leslie Wilson was thinking the same thing. A small group of black members hoped to walk out that next morning to go on a picnic, so they said, but at first her husband, Joe Wilson, seen here in yellow, a top security guard for Jim Jones, told her she could not take their son Jakari but then suddenly he handed the boy back to Leslie.
WILSON: And we immediately started taking off. And so to say I was panicked is -- I was horrified. I was so, so scared.
O'BRIEN: Nine of them left. These five adults, plus three young daughters in one family and Leslie's 3-year-old son.
WILSON: And I started carrying him tied to a sheet on my back.
O'BRIEN: They had to climb a hill in the open to leave.
WILSON: Everyone can look up and see us walking. I was just shaking. I was so, so frightened.
O'BRIEN: They heard a truck approaching as they reached the thick jungle near the entrance to the compound.
WILSON: We dove in and hid the kids. Diane, who worked in the pharmacy had made, this is so ironic, a cocktail of valium and Kool- Aid for the children to keep them calm.
O'BRIEN: The truck was bringing the NBC crew and other reporters back to Jonestown that Saturday morning.
WILSON: Actually, we're so close to the guards that we could hear their voices, hear their conversation.
O'BRIEN: The truck passed. Leslie's group found the railroad tracks nearby that led to another town almost 30 miles away.
WILSON: We did not have a clue as to if we're going to make it to the next town, if we were going to live, if we were going to die, but we knew that we had to leave.
O'BRIEN: That railroad is now gone, ripped up. The jungle reclaiming the route. All that remains is this railway bridge which Leslie remembers with dread.
WILSON: I recall a bridge, I have a horrible fear of heights. Horrible. And it was an area that we had to cross and I just had to get on my hands and knees and cross it because I couldn't stand up. I couldn't.
O'BRIEN: Look closely and you'll understand her fears. You can see straight through the railroad ties to the river below.
ROBERT POLE, FORMER SECURITY GUARD: She was really scared and I was scared too.
O'BRIEN: Robert Pole joined up with Leslie's group just before that bridge crossing. He had been a security guard for Jim Jones and believed in Jones until he got to Guyana.
POLE: At first he was so good, and then all that evil came down. I thought I had met God. But I met Satan.
O'BRIEN: Pole and another man also left that morning. The trek through the jungle was exhausting for everyone.
POLE: It was hard. It was hard. We was really tired.
O'BRIEN (on camera): How difficult was the walk carrying a child on your back, three other little kids.
WILSON: It was a tough walk, but then, too, it wasn't -- it was a freedom walk. It was a walk to freedom.
O'BRIEN (voice over): A passing train stopped and gave Leslie's group, now 11 people in all, a ride over the last several miles. When they came to the end of the line in the town of Matthews Ridge, suddenly they came face to face with more fear.
WILSON: We walk to the police station and then we have guns drawn on us. We don't know why. The captain proceeds to tell us there's been shootings in Port Kaituma.
O'BRIEN: Coming up, the last hours of Congressman Leo Ryan and the Reverend Jim Jones.
J. PARKS: You could feel death in the air. You could actually feel it.
O'BRIEN: Jerry Parks had a sense, Saturday, November 18th, 1978 would be his last day in Jonestown, one way or another.
J. PARKS: I knew that we didn't have long. I knew that if we got out of there, it was going to have to be pretty quick.
O'BRIEN: Parks wanted his family to leave with the others who walked away that morning.
J. PARKS: I had clothes placed in a plastic bag down in the tall grass where I worked.
O'BRIEN: But then he saw someone approaching it.
J. PARKS: I seen him pick up that bag and start walking. The first thing I thought, oh, no, someone has turned us in.
O'BRIEN: So his 64-year-old mother, Edith Parks, sought out Congressman Ryan's aide, Jackie Speier. Tim Carter, seen here, here overheard the conversation.
TIM CARTER, FORMER MEMBER, PEOPLES TEMPLE AGRICULTURAL PROJECT: And Edith Parks walked up to Jackie Speier and said I'm being held prisoner here. I want to go home.
O'BRIEN: This is Jackie Speier walking back with Edith Parks to talk to the rest of the family. In this NBC video from that day.
Tim Carter will never forget what a Jones loyalist said to him.
CARTER: And she goes, well, looks like we're all going to die.
O'BRIEN: Speier tape-recorded a statement by the oldest daughter, Brenda Parks.
SPEIER: What is your wish today?
BRENDA PARKS, JERRY PARKS' DAUGHTER: To go back -- go back home.
SPEIER: And where is home?
B. PARKS: The U.S.
O'BRIEN: Jackie Speier walked off to find Jim Jones. The woman she passed is Patricia Parks, Jerry's wife, in the last hours of her life. Speier confronted Jones with the defectors.
SPEIER: He became very agitated, very upset, tried to talk with them. He was sweating, beads of sweat on his face.
O'BRIEN: Jerry's youngest daughter, Tracy Parks, was confronted by Jones' wife Marceline.
T. PARKS: First off, I thought, OK, this is the day that I'm going to die.
O'BRIEN: But Marceline left Tracy an opening to rejoin her family.
T. PARKS: And she goes, you don't want to leave, too? And I said, if you take me to them, I'll talk them out of it.
O'BRIEN: Jerry Parks faced down Jim Jones.
J. PARKS: I said, what the hell has he done for me besides hold my family prisoner here for seven and a half months?
O'BRIEN: As Jerry Parks turned away.
J. PARKS: I looked over there and Jones was sitting on the bench and he's just sitting there, a dejected, beaten man.
O'BRIEN: Yet another confrontation awaited Jim Jones when he sat down with NBC reporter Don Harris for an interview.
DON HARRIS, NBC REPORTER: Last night, someone came and passed me this note.
O'BRIEN: Harris gave him Verne Gosney's note asking for help to go home.
JONES: I see what we're talking about, he wants to leave his son here. If Jonestown is such a bad place, why does he want to leave his son here?
O'BRIEN: In fact, Verne Gosney had to agree to leave his young son Mark behind before Jones would let him go.
GOSNEY: All the decisions around my son I -- will, you know, haunt me for the rest of my life.
O'BRIEN: Jones raged at Harris.
JONES: People play games, friend. They lie, they lie. What can I do about liars? Are you going to leave us? I just beg you. Please leave us. They'll -- we will bother nobody. Anybody that wants to get out of here, they can get out of here. We have no problem by getting out of here. They come and go all the time. I don't know what kind of game. People like -- who -- people like the publicity. Some people do, I don't.
CARTER: The sky turned black. The wind came up, and I mean the wind came up strong, and it was just torrential rain.
O'BRIEN: When the rain came, the Parks family and others took shelter in an open air shed. That's little Tracy Parks on the right, in the blue windbreaker.
Jim Jones is there, too, talking with the Bogue family, who had been among Jones' earliest followers, and now wanted to leave as well.
CARTER: That really -- that sent shockwaves through me.
O'BRIEN: Jones moved over to talk to Edith Parks and her family. Young Tracy was distraught.
T. PARKS: I was crying and wiping my tears with that hat. The tears were not anything other than I was scared to death. I was really down deep in my heart thinking, we're going to die.
O'BRIEN: This is the last shot of the Reverend Jim Jones that day, as his grip on people was cracking.
The rain stopped. The Parks family walked toward a waiting truck. That is Tracy again staying close to her older brother. As the group was leaving, another family was being torn apart.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) get back here!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on a second.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You bring them back! Don't you take my kids!
O'BRIEN: This mother resisted when others in her family wanted to go. In the end, the family would stay. And all would die.
SPEIER: Emotions were starting to just become very tense. And I recognized that we were in a powder keg.
O'BRIEN: This is Vern Gosney, dragging his belongings toward the departing truck. He tried to warn the congressman they were all in danger.
GOSNEY: He told me I had that congressional shield of protection over me and that I had nothing to worry about. I thought he was totally out of his mind.
O'BRIEN: Congressman Leo Ryan, carrying the briefcase, had planned to stay the night to help get more families out. Then, a church member came up behind him.
CARTER: And, all of a sudden, he puts a knife up to his throat and he says, "All right, M.F., you're going to die." And we all jumped on him anyway. We got the knife away.
O'BRIEN: You can see blood spatters on Ryan's shirt from the attacker, not Ryan.
The ride to the small airport at Port Kaituma was slow, bumpy and tense.
T. PARKS: You could just sense the fear in everyone. You could just feel it like it was bouncing off each other.
O'BRIEN: When they reached the airport, Don Harris asked a shaken Ryan about the knife attack.
RYAN: Yes, he said, something about rob and choke and kill or knife. I don't know. But the -- what he said was he intended to kill him.
O'BRIEN: Within minutes, all three men here, Congressman Leo Ryan, reporter Don Harris, and the NBC cameraman behind the lens, Bob Brown, seen earlier the same day, would be dead, shot by Jim Jones' gunmen.
Just ahead: ambush at the airport.
GOSNEY: I looked out the window and I said: "They're killing everyone. They're killing everyone."
T. PARKS: The feelings are just like it happened yesterday.
O'BRIEN: Thirty years later, Tracy Parks came back to this small airport near Jonestown.
(on camera): Did you feel like you were home free when you got to the airport?
T. PARKS: Yes.
T. PARKS: Pretty much. I thought, yay, I'm going home.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): On that day, November 18, 1978, 15 defectors got off the truck at Port Kaituma Airport, six in the Parks family, seven with the Bogue family, plus Vern Gosney and his friend. That's Vern walking toward us.
GOSNEY: Well, when I got there, we unloaded. And I -- I -- I had a feeling of foreboding.
O'BRIEN: This man, Larry Layton, was a faithful follower of Jones. He worried congressional aide Jackie Speier.
SPEIER: The only thing that was really bothering me was that, all of a sudden, Larry Layton had decided that he was a defector. And it -- you just have a gut instinct. You have a -- just an intuition.
O'BRIEN: Jackie Speier, seen here, got people moving toward this plane, a 19-seat Otter. That's Jerry Parks walking with his wife. Tracy Parks and her brother, Dale, got on this smaller plane. So did Larry Layton and Vern Gosney.
GOSNEY: The pilots started the plane and we were taxiing. And we were coming down the runway to take off. And then the tractor- trailer with the assassins cut in front of our plane.
O'BRIEN: This is that tractor and farm wagon.
GOSNEY: And that's when I heard the shooting and I looked out the window. And I said: "They're killing everyone. They're killing everyone."
I turned. And that's when Larry shot me once in each side.
O'BRIEN: Larry Layton, the false defector. At the same time, these gunmen leaped from that farm wagon as it pulled up near the larger plane. The NBC cameraman taking this footage was shot dead.
SPEIER: I really didn't know what was happening at first. I didn't know what the sounds meant. And then, when I realized that they were gunshots, I -- I just -- I ran under the plane.
O'BRIEN: Leo Ryan ducked behind a wheel, but was killed, the only U.S. congressman ever assassinated while in office.
These are photos never seen publicly, until now. Lying behind Ryan, the body of NBC reporter Don Harris. This newspaper photographer also was killed.
Jerry Parks, 30 years ago.
J. PARKS: They shot the reporters on the ground and the congressman. They come from the pickup -- the dump truck from the other side and got off, and stuck the gun to their heads, point-blank, and blew their brains out. And they shot them up terrible.
O'BRIEN: The newsmen, the congressman and his aide, Jackie Speier, were clearly the targets.
SPEIER: I was shot five times.
Well, the first thing I thought was: "Oh, my God, this is it. I'm 28 years old, and my life is over."
O'BRIEN: Inside the larger plane, Jerry Parks was sitting across from his wife, Patty, when bullets came through the windows.
J. PARKS: I heard my mom holler, "My God, look at Patty." And I turned around and look, and the whole part of her head was gone.
T. PARKS: The tractor was over there.
O'BRIEN: Her daughter, Tracy.
T. PARKS: When they started shooting down here at the big plane, that's when Larry Layton started on our little plane. He shot the two people in front of us. Then, he turned around and pointed the gun at my brother's chest. And the bullet, we thought, went off. He flew back, and, you know, acted like he had been hit, and then he looked down and realized he hadn't.
GOSNEY: Dale and I struggled with Larry to get the gun away. Larry was hitting me and kicking me at that time. And I had to fight Larry, and I had to push up through the pilot's seat and go out the pilot's door, and then ran towards the jungle.
O'BRIEN: A few steps into the jungle, Gosney collapsed.
GOSNEY: There was blood everywhere. And I thought, "I'm dying." And then I blacked out.
O'BRIEN: Patricia Parks' body was pulled from the larger plane. Her daughter, Tracy, back then.
T. PARKS: I didn't see her get shot, but I -- I saw her brains in the plane and I saw her laying out on the ground.
My mother was dead. They shot her. And my dad wanted to kind of not let me see that.
O'BRIEN: Worried the gunmen might return to the airport, Jerry Parks told his two daughters and three other youths to seek cover.
J. PARKS: We got them into the jungle and told them to stay there. Don't come out until we come back and holler for you.
O'BRIEN (on camera): So, where did you go?
T. PARKS: We just ran straight back through there.
T. PARKS: Yes, straight in.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Others carried a badly wounded Jackie Speier to the edge of the jungle.
SPEIER: Unfortunately, I was placed on an anthill. But you don't sweat the small stuff when you're dying.
O'BRIEN: Reporters found the only painkiller in town.
SPEIER: During the night, they would come and bring a bottle of rum. And that's how I got through the night, sipping on a bottle of rum.
O'BRIEN: Jerry Parks' worries were getting worse.
J. PARKS: Before night came, we went back to the jungle, started hollering for the kids, and no response.
T. PARKS: They never came. They said they did, but we went so far, we couldn't hear their voices.
J. PARKS: And I thought, "Oh, my God, don't tell me they're lost."
JONES: Die with a degree of dignity. Lay down your life with dignity. Don't lay down with tears and agony.
O'BRIEN: The end of Jonestown.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Darkness settles over Jonestown on its last day on earth. These are the final words in this unsigned suicide note left behind amid the hundreds of bodies.
Tim Carter saw the Reverend Jim Jones teetering on the edge that day.
CARTER: You could see his jaws getting a little bit tighter, you know, and his -- his arms being folded.
O'BRIEN: After the truck left for the airport, Carter turned to his wife.
CARTER: And I said: "I think we're all going to die. He's going to try to kill everybody."
O'BRIEN: Then an announcement over the loudspeaker.
CARTER: We walked up to the pavilion. It was very quiet. It was very somber.
JONES: How very much I have loved you. How very much I have tried my best to give you the good life.
O'BRIEN: This from Jim Jones in the last tape-recording he ever made.
JONES: If we can't live in peace, then let's die in peace.
O'BRIEN: He told his flock that this man, Larry Layton, planned to bring down Congressman Ryan's plane.
JONES: They're going to shoot that pilot. And down comes that plane into the jungle. And we had better not have any of our children left when it's over.
O'BRIEN: He said the Guyanese army would come through the jungle to torture them.
JONES: When they start parachuting out the air, they will -- they will shoot some of our innocent babies. And I don't think we should sit here and take any more time for our children to be endangered.
O'BRIEN: This woman, Christine Miller, tried to argue with Jim Jones.
CHRISTINE MILLER, JIM JONES FOLLOWER: I look at all the babies, and I think they deserve to live.
JONES: I agree.
MILLER: You know?
JONES: They -- but, also, they also deserve much more. They deserve peace.
O'BRIEN: Jones' mistress, Maria Katsaris, called Tim Carter aside.
CARTER: She says: "Come here. I think I have something for you to do. She goes, "We have three suitcases of money that are supposed to be delivered to the Soviet Embassy in Georgetown."
O'BRIEN: As Carter prepared to leave, he saw the airport gunmen return.
CARTER: The tractor-trailer that had come from the airstrip came up and stopped at the kitchen. And these guys jumped out and said, "We got the congressman."
O'BRIEN: Jim Jones told his 900 followers.
JONES: The congressman is dead. Please get us some medication. That's simple -- it's simple. There's no convulsions with it. It's just simple. Just, please, can we hasten -- can we hasten with that medication? You don't know what you have done.
O'BRIEN: At one point, Carter saw the mistress, Maria Katsaris, whisper in Jones' ear.
CARTER: And he looked at her and said: "Is there any way to make it taste less bitter?"
And, so, out loud, she goes, "No, there's not."
And he said: "Is it supposed to be quick?"
And she said, "Yes, it's supposed to be quick."
JONES: Please, for God's sakes, let's get on with it. We have lived -- we have lived as no other people have lived and loved. We have had as much of this world as you're going to get. Let's just be done with it. Let's be done with the agony of it.
O'BRIEN: When the children cried, a Jones loyalist told parents.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just a little bitter tasting, that they're -- they're not crying out of any pain.
CARTER: There are screams of agony. There are screams of terror. You can hear people crying.
JONES: Keep your emotions down. Keep your emotions down. Know that it will not hurt if you will be -- if you will be quiet, if you will be quiet.
O'BRIEN: Three hundred and three children would die in Jonestown that day, from toddlers to teens, Leslie Wilson's nephew and her niece, Vern Gosney's son, Mark. A third of all the dead were children, murdered at Jim Jones' command, wracked with convulsions, a painful death.
JONES: I will tell you, I don't care how many screams you hear. I don't care how many anguished cries. Death is a million times preferable to 10 more days of this life.
CARTER: What I experienced and saw was absolute chaos and insanity.
JONES: Die with a degree of dignity. Lay down your life with dignity. Don't lay down with tears and agony.
O'BRIEN: Tim Carter walked back to the pavilion and saw his 1- year-old son, Malcolm, in the arms of his wife Gloria.
CARTER: And here's Sharon Cobb (ph), a pediatric nurse practitioner, with a syringe in Malcolm's mouth. Gloria is standing there, tears streaming down her face, just agony written all over her face.
O'BRIEN: These syringes, found later, were filled with cyanide to kill the children.
JONES: All they're doing is taking a drink to take -- to go to sleep. That's what death is, sleep.
CARTER: Malcolm was dead, his little lips covered with foam, which is what happens with arsenic and cyanide, as it foams at the mouth.
I put my arms around Gloria as she was holding Malcolm, and just kept on sobbing: "I love you so much. I love you so much." I held Gloria until she died.
JONES: The vat, the vat, where is the vat with the green C's? Bring it here, so the adults can begin.
O'BRIEN: Jones' last self-serving words, as the tape ends.
JONES: We didn't commit suicide. We committed an act of revolutionary suicide, protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.
O'BRIEN: Jim Jones did not drink the cyanide. When almost everyone else was dead, Jones was shot in the head, probably by a trusted aide.
Before the end came, these three men, Tim Carter on the left, his brother on the right, P.R. man Mike Prokes in the middle, were allowed to walk away from Jonestown with the suitcases holding $500,000 in cash.
CARTER: We dumped the first suitcase in the fields next to the pavilion.
They abandoned all three suitcases in the jungle. Authorities later recovered them. When the men paused to rest, Carter said he put a gun to his head.
CARTER: I knew that I would never get the sounds and the smells and the sites of Jonestown out of my mind ever again.
The three men walked on that night to Port Kaituma, where they were taken into custody.
A day or so later, Carter and Prokes were put into a helicopter and flown back to Jonestown to identify bodies. Nine hundred and nine people lay dead, many face down, often the children lying hidden beneath them.
CARTER: As I walked through the pavilion, I identified what bodies I could. I saw injection marks in people's arms, I saw one in the back of somebody's head. I saw them on -- on somebody's neck.
It was really evident to me that people had been just flat-out murdered, held down and injected, the ones that didn't want to drink the poison.
O'BRIEN: Several bottles of cyanide still sat on a table in the sunlight. This vat with the deadly Kool-Aid-type punch rested on a walkway. A parrot stood watch over the dead.
In the suicide hall, this sign, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it," hung above the body of Jim Jones.
CARTER: I did notice Jones' body on the stage with a bullet hole in the side of his head. And I remember thinking, "The son of a bitch didn't even die the way everybody else died."
O'BRIEN: Jones' body would be among the first to be identified through fingerprints taken when L.A. vice cops arrested him for lewd conduct in the men's room of a movie theater, an arrest he fought to hush up. The airport gunmen in the farm wagon would all die in the mass suicide, among them Leslie Wilson's husband, Joe. Larry Layton, the lone shooter to survive, would not be paroled from a U.S. prison until 2002.
Tim Carter and his companion spent a few days in a Guyana police cell, then were released. Four others in Jonestown lived through the suicide night. Two men were able to sneak away during the slaughter, one of them Odell Rhodes.
ODELL RHODES, JONESTOWN SURVIVOR: He was telling people it wasn't painful and that, you know, people had to die with dignity.
O'BRIEN: This 76-year-old woman, asleep in the infirmary, was overlooked. So was one elderly man. Only 33 left alive out of almost 1,000 faithful followers in Jonestown that day.
The rest came home in metal coffins, as ostracized in death as they had been isolated in life. Many of the children could not be identified. Other victims went unclaimed.
The unwanted, the unnamed were buried on a hillside, more than 400, in a mass grave here in Oakland, California.
WILSON: I don't think society cared, because they were nameless -- they were nameless faces.
O'BRIEN: Leslie Wilson's mother, her niece and nephew are here. On a recent summer day, she stood and offered an epitaph for the Reverend Jim Jones.
WILSON: I would say Jim Jones was a psychopathic, hypocritical, egotistical maniac who wanted to go down in history. Unfortunately, he felt the need to take everyone else with him.
O'BRIEN: When we come back: the lost children of the jungle.
T. PARKS: I pretty much thought I was going to die in there. We were hungry. We were thirsty. We had fevers. O'BRIEN: "Escape from Jonestown" continues.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The jungle grows right up to the edge of the airstrip at Port Kaituma.
(on camera) So where did you go?
T. PARKS: Just ran straight back through there.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): With her mother dead beside the runway, a congressman and three others killed, 12-year-old Tracy Parks ran for safety in the jungle.
T. PARKS: We ran too far and, of course, it's so thick that like once you get so far, you can't -- you get lost in your direction.
O'BRIEN: She was the youngest of five who fled. Her 18-year-old sister and a boyfriend, a brother and sister in another family.
T. PARKS: We just kept running and running and running.
O'BRIEN: They feared the gunmen would be back.
(on camera) You thought they were going to come kill you?
T. PARKS: Yes. I just knew they were going to get us. I figured, well, they knew they didn't get everybody. And they knew we were in there, so we went in there. We wasn't about to try to come back here.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Even if they could have found their way.
T. PARKS: It was so dark, so pitch black that you couldn't see two feet in front of you in there in the jungle at night.
O'BRIEN: The five of them climbed into a half-fallen tree to spend the night.
T. PARKS: We heard shootings that first night, but really it was the gunshots over in Jonestown we were hearing. But -- so I -- we really didn't think we had anything to go back to. Or, you know, any parents or anything. So we thought they finished off the rest of them.
O'BRIEN: They thought everyone else had been killed. They were too scared to come out of hiding.
T. PARKS: The helicopters were actually flying over. We could hear them. And at nighttime they were shining a light down, but we were hiding under banana leaves and whatever we could, because we thought it was Jim Jones.
I pretty much thought I was going to die in there because, you know -- yes, I just -- we were hungry. We were thirsty. We had fevers. It was, you know, pretty -- all of us were sick.
I'm pretty sure it was the second night we all had a little hole that was like a water hole.
O'BRIEN: They sensed an animal nearby.
T. PARKS: And my sister said, "Tracy, be quiet." She whispered it to me. "Be quiet. Don't even breathe."
O'BRIEN: To this day they don't know what it was. By the next morning the youngsters wanted to be found.
T. PARKS: We'd see a light off to the distance, and we'd get to running towards it, and it would be a big hole up in the top where the sun was coming down through the trees.
O'BRIEN: The group came to this river and started across.
T. PARKS: I almost drowned. We had our clothes on and boots and everything else, plus we were weak from no food and no water and no sleep.
O'BRIEN: Tracy sank. Her sister's boyfriend reached for her.
T. PARKS: He looked back and I was -- I had went under already and swallowed a bunch of the yucky water. And then he looked back and just kind of slowed down and grabbed me by the jacket and just pulled me over to the side.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Saved you?
T. PARKS: Saved me.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The river was close to the airport. They stumbled up to the military guards there, who sent for Tracy's older brother.
T. PARKS: He came running out, and I'll never forget the look on his face. It was like he had seen a ghost.
O'BRIEN: Tracy was taken to a small store nearby.
T. PARKS: I just laid there, and I thought, I've already been through hell. What else could happen really doesn't matter.
O'BRIEN: She was flown back to the Guyanese capital to a reunion with her father at the police station.
T. PARKS: I knew when I saw him I'm going home. I'm going to be able to go home. And that was the first time I had ever really felt that since the day I had hit the gates to go in.
O'BRIEN: Ahead, 30 years of unending pain.
J. PARKS: Whoever said time heals all wounds didn't know what the hell he was talking about.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): In a way, this is the youngest survivor of Jonestown, Chad Rhodes, just 19 when he was charged with murder and sent to prison for life without parole. His mother, pregnant with him, survived the airport ambush the day Jonestown died. On a winter night in Oakland, California, in 1999 Rhodes opened up with an assault rifle from an overpass and killed a policeman on the highway below.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard a gunshot like boom, boom, boom, boom, more like four or five gunshots, yes, and then we heard a car took off from that area.
O'BRIEN: Trouble has been a fellow traveler for many through the years since Jonestown. Mike Prokes, the P.R. man who helped walk away with the suitcases of cash, called a news conference early in 1979.
MIKE PROKES, P.R. FOR JIM JONES: I refuse to let my black brothers and sisters and the others in Jonestown die in vain.
O'BRIEN: He got up, walked into the bathroom, and shot himself to death.
These two former church members, outspoken critics of Jones, were shot to death in their home a year later in what police think was a family dispute.
In 1984 in Los Angeles, one child was killed and 11 others wounded when a sniper, a young man whose parents died at Jonestown, sprayed this school yard with gunfire. When police closed in, he shot himself to death.
For survivors who lived through that last day in Jonestown, ghosts return in different ways. For Tim Carter, it's a smell.
CARTER: I can't smell almonds to this day. It will make me physically nauseous, because cyanide smells like almonds, and that's what it smelled like there that day, was almonds.
O'BRIEN: For Tracy Parks, it can be behind the wheel of her pickup truck.
T. PARKS: I still have fears of being shot driving down the street. I am always feeling like someone is going to shoot me or -- yes, it scars you.
O'BRIEN: For Vern Gosney, it could be walking down the street.
GOSNEY: I could see a man with light skin and black hair from behind, and in my mind I thought Jim Jones was alive.
O'BRIEN: The airport shooting left Gosney in a hospital for months.
GOSNEY: I was shot through the stomach. I was shot through the liver. So my diaphragm was torn. My stomach had a -- was torn. I had a collapsed lung. My spleen -- ended up having to remove my spleen.
O'BRIEN: At first he turned to painkillers.
GOSNEY: I was on anti-depressants. I was on tranquilizers. I was on sedatives.
O'BRIEN: Then worse.
GOSNEY: And I started drinking, and I started using illicit drugs, as well. O'BRIEN: He had gone back to work in a San Francisco law office.
GOSNEY: When I look back on it now I don't even see how I walked around, much less worked a full-time job. It was so painful for me to be conscious, I just really -- I drank myself to unconsciousness every day.
O'BRIEN: In 1982 Gosney moved to the island of Maui in Hawaii with another commune that collapsed. When he lost one job, he applied for another with the Maui Police Department.
GOSNEY: I didn't tell them that I was a chronic alcoholic. I didn't tell them that I was a Jonestown survivor. I didn't tell them that I was HIV positive. I didn't tell them that I had a drug history.
O'BRIEN: After a couple of years as a cop, he hit rock bottom. Finally he stopped drinking, stopped using drugs and kept his job.
GOSNEY: I've been clean and sober for 19 years now, over 19 years.
O'BRIEN: Life has not been easy.
GOSNEY: I've lost two partners, two beautiful men that I loved and were partnered with that I lost to AIDS.
O'BRIEN: The license on Gosney's truck says it all.
GOSNEY: The license plate "ALIVE" is a celebration of me being alive and surviving Jonestown, surviving everything that's happened in my life.
O'BRIEN: Survival for Leslie Wilson has been a 30-year battle.
WILSON: The guilt of living was insurmountable. I did not want to live. I literally did not want to live. I did not want to be here.
O'BRIEN: Five members of her family died the day she walked away.
WILSON: Did they know that I knew or think that I knew what was going to happen, I just left them there to die?
O'BRIEN (on camera): You left your brother behind?
WILSON: Left my brother behind.
O'BRIEN: How old was he?
WILSON: He was 16. It doesn't help when your father says, "How come you didn't get your brother out?"
O'BRIEN: What did you say to that?
WILSON: I was going to come back for him. It wasn't supposed to end like that.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Survivor guilt can be a poison in itself.
(on camera) You tried to kill yourself basically?
WILSON: Oh, for sure. I was very, very self-destructive. Very, very self-destructive.
O'BRIEN: What did you do?
WILSON: Drugs was the first.
O'BRIEN: What kind of drugs?
WILSON: In the '80s, started snorting coke in '80 as a party drug.
O'BRIEN: And by five years later, you were...?
WILSON: Smoked out. Smoked out, pretty much.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): In Sacramento, California, in the mid- '80s, Leslie was arrested trying to cash a stolen check.
WILSON: It actually saved my life.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Getting caught?
O'BRIEN: Getting sent to prison?
O'BRIEN: How much time did you serve?
WILSON: Only did five months.
O'BRIEN: But it was enough time to clean you up?
WILSON: Oh, for sure, for sure.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Even as she straightened out her life, for years Leslie Wilson would not tell others she was a Jonestown survivor.
WILSON: And so I just lived underground. I just dug deep, and I lied. And I changed my name. And I pretended to be this person that I wasn't, because I could never talk about my family. People talk about their high-school reunions. Most of my friends were dead.
O'BRIEN: Today Leslie Wilson is a grandmother, works with medical insurance claims and has written a book about life and Jonestown.
WILSON: But I want people to understand that we weren't just names and not -- and that we were human. And that we came back. It was not -- it was not easy. It was not easy at all.
O'BRIEN: Congressional aide Jackie Speier came back on a stretcher.
SPEIER: I was hospitalized for two months. I must have had over ten surgeries.
O'BRIEN: For a time she thought she had lost use of her right arm.
SPEIER: How are you? I'm Jackie Speier, and I'm running for Congress. How are you this morning?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fine, thank you.
SPEIER: Very good.
O'BRIEN: She ran for her murdered congressman's seat but lost in a hard-fought primary, then turned to county and state politics, and served almost two decades in the California legislature.
Early in 2008, the Leo Ryan seat opened up again. This time, Jackie Speier won in a runaway race.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So help you God?
SPEIER: I do.
PELOSI: Congratulations. You are now a member of the...
O'BRIEN: And was sworn in after 30 years as a freshman congresswoman.
For almost everyone who did survive, escape from Jonestown was not a single day's journey. It has taken decades.
T. PARKS: It never goes away.
O'BRIEN: Tracy Parks tried to hide in a bottle.
T. PARKS: I just drank because that's how I hid my pain as a teenager.
O'BRIEN: But nothing could chase away the feelings of chronic fatigue, constant stress, and memories that came back at night.
T. PARKS: All the nightmares are I end up back there. I'm trying to get out. I'm trying to run through the jungle. And I know that I might not make it through the jungle, and I'd get up and literally have a panic attack. Have to open the doors and walk outside and get air. O'BRIEN: For Jerry Parks, it may be a little easier each year. But though one is home free, even at the age of 75. J. PARKS: I found in myself, in my case, that I break down real easy. I can cry real easy over the slightest little thing. Whoever said time heals all wounds didn't know what the hell he was talking about. It doesn't.
O'BRIEN: Coming up, return to Jonestown.
(on camera) Did you not believe it was gone?
T. PARKS: I had to see it for myself.
O'BRIEN: That it was really gone?
T. PARKS: Yes.
O'BRIEN: That no buildings stand?
T. PARKS: Yes.
O'BRIEN: That he's not here?
T. PARKS: That he's not here.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): In the mid-'90s in Atlanta, a fire left Leslie Wilson homeless. She called a hotline and was sent to this shelter with her 11-year-old daughter.
WILSON: I'll never forget the church. My daughter walked in and she started crying, and she goes, "Mommy" and I thought.
O'BRIEN: With moments like that, what remains remarkable is this. In the years which have followed the horror that was Jonestown, Leslie Wilson and other survivors have kept their faith, despite Jim Jones' betrayal of his God and theirs.
(on camera) How come you're still a religious person?
WILSON: I'm not religious. I'm spiritual.
O'BRIEN: What's the difference?
WILSON: I don't believe in organized religion.
O'BRIEN: Because of Jonestown?
WILSON: Oh, a lot of people -- yes, it has a lot to do with it. It has a lot to do with it. A friend of mine asked, "How do you have so much faith but don't go to church?"
I said, "Let me tell you, it was not an easy journey to get here."
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Tracy Parks and her father have made the same journey.
T. PARKS: I do not follow anybody, you know, religion-wise or anything. I believe in God on my own.
J. PARKS: I believe in God. I believe in Christ. But I don't believe you have to attend a church to make it into the next world.
O'BRIEN: Vern Gosney stands apart, literally. His body from neck to feet is tattooed with eastern religious symbols.
GOSNEY: The gods and goddesses, mostly Hindu. I say I'm a pagan. A Wiccan, a Buddhist.
O'BRIEN: Rather than renounce religion, he has opened himself to much of everything.
GOSNEY: It's a very important part of my life. My meditation, prayer, to whatever spark animates life, and I don't know what that is.
O'BRIEN: Tracy Parks' prayer was to come back to Guyana to the airport where her mother died, to say farewell.
T. PARKS: I didn't think it would bother me like this.
O'BRIEN: Thirty years ago Tracy and her family had been unable to leave Guyana in time for her mother's funeral back in the U.S. She brought flowers for a makeshift memorial next to the airstrip.
T. PARKS: This is harder than I thought.
O'BRIEN: The words say simply "Mom." She left four red roses, a picture of her mother, Patricia Parks, and a small wooden cross, then stood and said a silent prayer on the spot where her mother was shot to death along with Congressman Leo Ryan and three newsmen.
(on camera) Why did you want to come back?
T. PARKS: For this.
O'BRIEN: To make a real memorial?
T. PARKS: Yes. I just wanted to say good-bye.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Then one last leg of the journey -- six miles over a bumpy road back to Jonestown. One thing was the same as the day she arrived 30 years ago. T. PARKS: The first thing I noticed was the heat was unbearable. O'BRIEN: Everything else was different. An open field at what was the heart of the settlement, the buildings dismantled and carried away by natives. Jungle growth retaking the land so thick our guides needed machetes. A few banana trees still standing and this, the remains of one small tractor, half hidden in the weeds. For Tracy Parks, what is important is what was not here.
T. PARKS: This is where it happened, so I had to bring myself back to feel the pain and the fears and see that it's gone, really helped me and...
O'BRIEN (on camera): Did you not believe it was gone?
T. PARKS: I had to see it for myself.
O'BRIEN: That it was really gone?
T. PARKS: Yes.
O'BRIEN: That no buildings stand?
T. PARKS: Yes.
O'BRIEN: That he's not here?
T. PARKS: That he's not here.
O'BRIEN: When one of the earliest members of the People's Temple arrived here in Guyana, he said Jim Jones told him, the road to Jonestown led in, but it did not lead out. For 900 people who followed Jim Jones here, he led them only to the grave.
The sign in the rafters in the suicide hall read, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The sign is long gone, part of the dust of history, but its lesson should not be forgotten.
I'm Soledad O'Brien, reporting from what was once Jonestown, in Guyana, South America.