Hawaii Jonestown survivor talks about the past

Published On: Nov 18 2013 06:45:00 PM HST
KIHEI, Hawaii -

He called it a dream.  They called it a utopia.

Vernon Gosney was 25 years old when he arrived in Jonestown with his 5-year-old son.  But, Gosney would soon realize what so many others did not -- Jonestown would not save them; Jonestown would end them.

Click here to watch Lara Yamada's report.

Nov. 18, 1978.  That haunting voice as if in a trance.

For nearly an hour, Jim Jones, the man who called himself God, drew his followers to their final moments.

"In order to be free, I had to forgive him," said Gosney.  "I had to forgive the unforgivable."

Lifted by the spirits on his walls, documented in the pages of his album in his Maui home, Gosney relived the past.

From the People's Temple in San Francisco to the jungles of Guyana in South America.  He says they came by the bus loads following Jones' simple message of equality, love, peace and happiness.

"It started with a dream," said Gosney.  "But then, things start to go wrong."

Gosney says despite the lush green surrounding them, the homes built by their hands, fresh water was miles away.  The soil was poor and that dream began to die.

"There's a lot of things I wish I could have gone back and done differently, but I can't.  I can't take back the past," said Gosney.

Just days before the day of reckoning, cut off from their families, Congressman Leo Ryan had come to investigate.  Gosney says despite a show of unity, it was he who revealed their suffering in a written note that would accidentally end up in Jones' hands.

"It was great terror and fear," said Gosney.  "I never thought I was going to get out alive."

Several tried that day, reaching a small plane on a dirt airstrip.  But, Jones' supporters would follow killing Congressman Ryan and four others.

Gosney was shot three times in the stomach.  He would escape to the jungle and survive.  He was unaware who would not.

"There's not a day I don't think about my son," said Gosney.

In the aftermath, more than 900 lay dead from cyanide poisoning, including Gosney's 5-year-old son Mark.

"This is where I came to heal.  The mana of the land, the spirit.  All the people that I've met here, I've been embraced here," said Gosney.

He moved to Maui in 1982 following a spiritual group that eventually fell apart, but it led him to the place that would eventually heal his heart and mind.

Surrounded by beauty, successful in therapy and happily retired after 30 years on Maui's police force.

"It's been a very long journey," said Gosney.

Gosney says after decades after Jonestown, he finally created the light to conquer the darkness of his part.

"I don't deserve to be here any more than anybody else," said Gosney.  "But I am.  So, there's this incredible grace that I live with.  That's I'm not able to understand it.  But, I'm grateful for."

Gosney says he hopes to work with young people to prevent another Jonestown from ever happening again.


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