A humble attempt at an apology for Jonestown

Dear Editor,

How do you apologize almost 35 years later? This is my humble attempt to do just that.

Leslie Wagner-Wilson
Leslie Wagner-Wilson

November 18, 2013 marks 35 years since the Jonestown, Guyana massacre/suicide occurred. As one of the 33 escapees out of Jonestown the day of this tragedy, I have spent years reflecting on not only the tragedy but how this affected the Guyanese citizens, I apologize that it took me this long to write.  I apologize that your beautiful country was placed on the map by this horrible tragedy…you deserved so much more than that.

Although I did not have the opportunity to see much of Georgetown, my memories are fond. When I first arrived at the airport and stepped outside I was amazed by the people; I saw a vehicle with the Guyanese army on board. I had never seen people of colour in this capacity.

It was amazing to me.  Another time was my first attempt to lie about needing to get glasses in order to get out of Jonestown to go to Georgetown and reach the American Embassy to tell them what was going on in Jones-town. That failed, but during my stay I was able to go to the open marketplace and mingle with those selling their wares and foods. What I found was a people who were willing to help a young woman procuring foods by placing something in my basket. To see a people who welcomed strangers, laughing and smiling. (Years later I would learn that Peoples Temple had millions in banks around the world and there was no need for us to beg for food, just as there was no reason why there should have been a lack of food in Jonestown).  It felt good to be in Georgetown. The people were sweet and humbling, their voices ringing with song as they explained the fruits, some I had never seen before.  After our group of 11 escaped Jonestown on November 18th, we ended up in Matthews Ridge where we were treated with care and respect, even though the Police Captain was unclear about the circumstances of our arrival. He mentioned that they heard that Jonestown was like a concentration camp, the reason why we walked over 30 miles to reach Matthews Ridge and our freedom.

During those 24 hours, the only news he had was the shootings at Port Kaituma. So although we were still somewhat suspect, he was professional.

I wish I remembered his name. The train conductor who bore witness to us not being near Port Kaituma during those shootings – I thank him from the bottom of my heart. I wish I knew his name. Sometimes the people of Port Kaituma would come into Jonestown for various reasons and I always found them to be humble and friendly.

The second encounter was after we were brought into Georgetown from Matthews Ridge and housed in a hotel. I can only imagine what the staff at the hotel thought as a barrage of T.V. crews from around the world landed and here were these people from this place in the jungle. Still they treated us with dignity and respect. That meant so much because I lost my entire family and the shock and loss I felt while spending two weeks at the hotel was reduced because of the way I was treated. I thank all of you for that.

I missed an opportunity to visit again during the CNN taping of Escape from Jonestown in 2009, I had not reached the point that I could travel back.

Today I am ready and I hope I will have the opportunity to see the real Guyana! In my quest for closure, forgiveness has become the forefront of my healing and I now ask for yours. Peace, Blessings and continual Universal Love,

Yours faithfully,

Leslie Wagner-Wilson


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