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Jonestown survivor to share her story at library

On Tuesday, October 13, Jonestown survivor Laura Johnston Kohl will be talking to audiences at the Grand Rapids Public Library about surviving one of the most famous mass murders/suicides in American history. She has published a book on the subject.
The cover of Kohl's book

The cover of Kohl's book /Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library

For More Information:

To learn more about Jonestown, visit TIME or

To read book reviews, visit Amazon or Goodreads.

To see Laura Johnston Kohl's website, click here.

Laura Johnston Kohl

Laura Johnston Kohl /Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library

Almost 37 years ago, more than 914 people died in Jonestown at the People’s Temple, but Laura Johnston Kohl was one of 87 people to survive the mass murders and suicides. This Tuesday, October 13, she will be at the Main Library of the Grand Rapids Public Library (111 Library Street NE) to talk about her experiences and her book “Jonestown Survivor: An Insider’s Look.”

“We’re always really open to presenting different sides of a topic,” says the library’s Marketing and Communications Manager Kristen Krueger-Corrado. “So we want to make sure that everybody has a voice, and this is definitely an interesting voice that we’re bringing in.”

Prior to joining the People’s Temple, Kohl was a civil rights activist who opposed the Vietnam War and supported free speech. She joined the Temple in 1970, just a few years before the leader Jim Jones moved a small group of followers from California to Guyana, South America in an attempt to create a socialist utopia. Kohl was one of those who moved to Guyana.

On November 18, 1978, after an investigation into the Temple began, Jones and his followers in Guyana held a mass murder/suicide in which over 900 people died by cyanide poisoning. By a fluke, Kohl was away on that day and survived.

According to Kohl's website, she spent the 20 years following the Jonestown massacre recovering and starting over, and for the first 10 years, she lived in Synanon, a rehabilitation clinic.

According to Krueger-Corrado, Kohl spent another 10 years researching for her book before publishing it. The book shares those years of research, but it is also about Kohl’s personal experience being a part of the People’s Temple.

Since adjusting after the People’s Temple ended, Kohl returned to California and became a teacher and a Quaker. Now that her book has been published, she tours the country talking about her experiences.

“We’re always looking for great authors to bring in,” says Krueger-Corrado. “People come to the library events for a lot of different reasons...Some people come because they want to hear how she researched and wrote this book… Some people are interested in what happened, knowing the history behind it, knowing her experience.”

Whether it is the story being told or the process of writing a memoir, the topics that come up will be addressed through audience questions. After Kohl speaks, there will also be a book signing.

The event will be at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Main Library from 7-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 13.

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