And Then They Were Gone
Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown
Author: Judy Bebelaar, Ron Cabral
I remember when this happened – the shock of 918 lives lost, the story of a spiritual leader gone rogue. There is so much more to the story than I remembered – or perhaps I just never knew the whole story. Co-Author Judy Bebelaar was a creative writing teacher at Opportunity II High School in San Francisco, California, where many of the children of the Peoples Temple attended. Ron Cabral was also taught there, covering the subjects of Music Appreciation, Journalism, and Radio Production. Between them they have re-created the story of these vibrant, talented young people, largely in their own voices.
Things were a bit “off” from the very beginning. The students from the Peoples Temple were allowed to register en masse, which was not something that this school did. The students were good students, and very well behaved, but they were also very “closed off”, not talking a lot to the other students.
One of the important things about this book is that it is framed around the teenagers, and not around the spiritual leader, Jim Jones. We hear about Jones and his policies/actions only to the extent that they affect the teenagers.
The authors were there, teaching at the school, and knew the teenagers. They may not have known the true extent of what these kids were going through, but they knew them as human beings. In putting this book together, both memories and research came into play. They reached out, and tried to get everyone’s story to the best level that they could.
Throughout the book we see black and white photos of the students, which help the reader connect to them. Bebelaar has also included poetry from the students that help us to connect with how they see things, and how they are processing their own lives.
The afterward is quite unique, in that the author’s reached out to individuals that were mentioned in the book that lived through Jonestown, and how they reacted to the deaths.
There is also a listing of teachers and students from Opportunity II High School during this time, showing where they are now, and what they are doing.
This is a well written, well researched book. Be aware that as a reader you will be seeing the dark side of Jim Jones, and his Jonestown community. Not everyone who died wanted to die. Some just could not escape, some were too exhausted to try. The dream that drew these people together turned into their worst nightmare.
© March 2020 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission from the author.