Letter from Ken Risling

Mr. Haulman,

My good friend, Annie Moore, was one of those who died at Jonestown in 1978. Her family and mine were friends in Davis, California, where Annie and I attended high school. Her death has had a tremendous impact upon me; I cannot claim to have "recovered" yet. Not only was she someone I admired greatly; not only did she die in a shocking way for unfathomable reasons; but her family, for whom I feel kinship and respect, was subjected to an unimaginable loss that day in November — they lost Annie, and her sister Carolyn and Carolyn’s son Kimo as well. The sorrow I feel for their loss rivals that for my own.

I have spent all these years trying to come to terms with "the unanswered questions" of Annie’s death and the tragic events in which so many people died and suffered. I have authored articles, written a song, recounted the story to many others, re-established my relationships with those who knew and loved Annie, and spent countless hours reading, watching, and listening to the testimonials of people who were there or otherwise touched by the world Annie lived in. The hunger I feel for resolution seems unquenchable.

Two things I learned in my search relate directly to the Jonestown Memorial being constructed. First is my need for the world to recognize that Annie, and the others who died there, were people, normal people whose loss is felt deeply by those who loved them. When the news arrived of the annihilation in Guyana, I almost instantly realized that the impulse to distance one’s self from tragedy would drive people to frame the victims as a mass of faceless "kooks", somehow different and defective, and thus somehow more susceptible to the forces that drew people to follow Jim Jones. Dismissing people in this way is meant to make us feel safer from their plight. This useless defense only prevents us from learning how to keep history from repeating itself. And I know, because I knew Annie, that this illusion is wrong. The memorial helps spotlight the fact that there were 900+ individuals, each with a name, each with families and loved ones who care to preserve their cherished memories.

The second lesson is that the feeling of isolation and loneliness in my mourning keeps healing from occurring. To realize that each tear I shed falls into an ocean being filled by thousands of others with the same sadness may seem pointless to the uninitiated, but it is a great comfort to me. Knowing that there is a place where survivors and other "secondary" victims will sometimes gather, and certainly focus their thoughts, removes one more bar from the cage of loneliness — the cage in which I sometimes lurk, glaring and snarling, while futilely licking my wounds.

Nothing will erase my loss, but the Memorial offers precious consolations: validation and comfort. I thank those whose efforts have made this a reality. I look forward to the day I can visit this memorial, see my friend’s name indelibly inscribed on it, and hopefully be joined by others assuaging our grief.

Sincerely,
Ken Risling

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on December 9th, 2013.
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