I met Liane Harris at the very start of my People Temple journey. She was about thirteen, and I was 22. Soon after I joined in April of 1970, I became friends with her entire family – Liane, her mother Sharon Amos, and her siblings Christa and Martin. Liane and I hit it off immediately, and I thought of her as a younger sister, especially early on, before I took on a number of tasks. She even looked something like me – with two crooked front teeth (soon to have braces), thick glasses, and curly dark hair – and she had an infectious sense of humor.
It was her mother Sharon that I spent most of my time with in the beginning. I worked with her at the welfare department, spent time on some of her projects, and worked on many other Temple tasks up the street from her home in Ukiah. I also was one of Sharon’s drivers on San Francisco trips. She needed to have her car in San Francisco, but was often too tired to drive down and back.
From that vantage point, I watched Liane grow up from a pre-teen into adulthood. While Sharon was definitely intense, Liane seemed to want to chart her own path. She was calm and capable, and was well-liked by her peers, by adults and by children alike.
Whenever Liane came around, she brightened up the room. She had a goofy smile and positive, upbeat attitude. She seemed to find humor in so many things, and she would share those moments with the rest of us. But she was also a dedicated and hard worker in the Temple.
Liane had to grow up quickly to cover Sharon’s home responsibilities, as her mom got more and more drawn into the work done by Jim’s secretaries in the innermost circle. I saw her emerge as a tender caretaker of Martin and Christa, and develop a special nurturing bond with them. Often, Christa or Martin did something outrageously funny. Liane had an insightful way of looking at their behavior and getting a kick out of it without ever making fun of them. She entertained many of us with the stories. Christa was a tiny “adult” early on in her life, but Martin was often a rascal – a darling rascal.
In Jonestown, Liane was always practical and down to earth. I can remember going to work with her in the fields. As she was getting ready, her hair flared wildly in the humidity there, but she would calmly tame it, put on a kerchief, and be ready to go. She chose not to get stressed on anything so superficial.
I think Liane always felt her role as Sharon’s daughter weigh on her. At eighteen, she already lived with significant responsibilities. I got a sense from her that she was somewhat relieved to share some of that burden in Jonestown. There were more times that I saw her with her peers, spending time and doing activities, and I inwardly cheered her growing independence.
Nevertheless, when Sharon had decided to kill herself and her children in the Lamaha House in Georgetown, I am afraid that Liane was still too much under Sharon’s shadow as one of the “most dedicated and hard-working” of Jim’s staff. I don’t think Liane could have pulled away from Sharon’s insanity at that moment to save herself or her siblings.
Liane would have been a wonderful teacher or professor. She was so smart and had so much to offer. Had she lived, I daresay the world would still have taken note of her someday.
(Laura Johnston Kohl, who had lived in Jonestown but was working in Georgetown on 18 November, died on 19 November 2019 after a long battle with cancer. She was 72. Her writings for this website appear here.)