Letter from Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons

Dear Mr. Haulman,

I am writing to you in support of the Jonestown Memorial sponsored by the Jonestown Memorial Fund. I like to explain why.

The Jonestown tragedy happened when I was six, followed by the murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. Six months later my mother was selected to be in the gallery during Dan White’s trial. What shocked her was the fact that Dan White looked so normal, a man she could’ve dated, a man she could’ve known. Years later,  I had my own realization about the Jonestown victims.

I started doing research on Jonestown/Peoples Temple for a Young Adult novel. During my research I found that yes, many of the disciples did horrible terrible things in Jim Jones’ name. However, in the middle of my research, I was blessed with a new nephew. His mother sent me a picture of him with his older brother. His older brother looked like one of the young victims, John Victor Stoen. At the time, my nephew was six, the same age John  was when he died. This child wasn’t a "crazy cultist" or a "wacko" This was a little boy who was in the wrong place in the wrong time.I like to believe my oldest nephew and Jon could’ve been friends.

I thought of Grace Stoen-Jones, John’s mother. To survive your child’s death is unthinkable. But at least now when she visits his grave at Evergreen, she can have the small comfort of seeing his name on the memorial. I visit my grandparents’ grave on a regular basis, and just the thought of them being in a mass grave–without their names engraved on the stone–would’ve made me so sad. I like seeing their names on the headstone, and it makes me remember them with fondness.

I will admit I wasn’t sure about the idea of having Reverend Jones’ name on the memorial. However, the memorial has been built. If Reverend Norwood has her way, the memorial would be destroyed. Not only would that be throwing the proverbial baby  out with the bathwater, what’s next? Someone objects to a name on the Vietnam War Memorial and asks The Wall gets destroyed? Or if someone objects to a name on the Oklahoma Bombing Victims memorial, will that memorial be taken down? The memorial is here, it’s been built. Destroying it could set a dangerous precedent.

I know Reverend Norwood has devoted her time setting up memorial services through the years. She is to be commended for her work. But fighting and acting out in anger isn’t the answer. Trying to find empathy and common ground is the answer.

I will not be in Court on May 26th because of a work commitment. However I hope to be at the memorial service on May 29th. I will see the names of the people I’ve been researching the past year: Patricia Houston, the shy girl who raised a fist of support to her stepmother as Temple members took her away; Christine Miller, the woman who spoke out against Jones on November 18th; Deanna Wilkinson, the woman on the NBC footage who sang "That’s The Way Of The World" with such passion; Bob Brown who was killed doing his job filming the airstrip shootings. These people, and the other 915 people who died, were people I could’ve known. Many people did know them.And they all deserve this memorial.

Yours Truly,

Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons