OAKLAND, Calif. — Nearly 200 people gathered at Oakland’s Evergreen Cemetery on Sunday to dedicate a newly completed memorial to the victims of the 1978 mass murder and suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, organizers said.
The afternoon ceremony came after a judge last week denied a motion seeking to block further use of the monument at the cemetery, where more than 400 unidentified and unclaimed victims are buried in a mass grave.
The $45,000 monument, which consists of four large granite slabs embedded in the ground and etched with the names of the dead, has sparked controversy because it includes the name of Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones among the 917 other people who died.
“People from around the country came to be here,” said Fielding McGehee, who edits the online Jonestown Report and who lost in-laws in the violence.
“It was a beautiful day and everything that we hope for all came together,” he said.
Jones’ adopted son, Jim Jones Jr., has said the memorial represents the truth of what happened on Nov. 18, 1978, in Guyana.
“It was a great moment to sit back and see it all come together and come to fruition,” Jones told The Associated Press by phone after attending the ceremony. “What I really appreciated and felt real joy in that everybody talked about healing. The theme was healing, and that excited me.”
Jynona Norwood, a Los Angeles minister who lost 27 relatives at Jonestown, filed a lawsuit May 12 against Evergreen Cemetery, its president, Buck Kamphausen, and its director, Ron Haulman, accusing them of violating an agreement with her for an alternative memorial that would not include Jim Jones’ name.
In ruling against a preliminary injunction, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert McGuiness said Thursday that denying access to the memorial would cause substantial harm to those who wish to gather there to honor the victims.
After more than 32 years of waiting for a proper memorial, any further delay “would continue to expose the victims and families of Jonestown to a continuing paralytic state of inaction,” the judge wrote.
Norwood has said previously that the new memorial, built at a cost of $45,000, sends a message that “it is OK to honor a mass murderer.” She compared including the name of Jones to having the name Osama bin Laden on a Sept. 11 memorial.
“Where does it end when you talk about Jim Jones, a mass murderer,” she said by phone Sunday. “What are people coming to when he is honored?
U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California, three newsmen and a church defector were ambushed and killed on a remote jungle airstrip by temple gunmen while visiting Jonestown on a fact-finding mission to investigate reports of abuses of members. Jones then orchestrated a ritual of mass murder and suicide at the temple’s nearby agricultural commune.
The ruling Thursday settles only part of Norwood’s legal challenge. Her lawsuit also seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Attorneys for both sides are scheduled to confer with McGuiness by phone Tuesday to set a settlement conference date.