Local Jonestown Massacre survivor speaks out amid new discovery of victim remains

SAN MARCOS - Amid a shocking discovery inside a former funeral home, a local survivor of the infamous Jonestown Massacre is speaking out about old wounds reopened.

The cremains of nine victims in the 1978 massacre in Guyana were recently found in a bank-owned Delaware funeral home.

More than 35 years later, the emotions of a tragedy are revisited.

"I talk to many other survivors and the first thing was we felt like we were slapped in the face," said Laura Johnston Kohl.

Inside the former funeral home, in dozens of marked containers, were the cremated remains of nine victims tied to the Jonestown massacre, where more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple, led by American preacher Jim Jones, died in a night of mass suicide and murder.

"With this discovery, we were traumatized all over again. We were already a bit fragile," Johnston Kohl said.

Johnston Kohl, drawn to the Peoples Temple by their promise to change the world and belief in total equality, was running an agricultural crew when she was transferred to the group's Georgetown site 150 miles away -- a few weeks before the massacre.

At that site, the son of Jim Jones, Stephan, refused to obey orders for mass suicide. Johnston Kohl recalls news reports of the death toll.

"The more we heard the terrible news, the more devastated we were," said Johnston Kohl.

So many decades later came the stunning discovery that not all were laid to rest.

It's unclear how the cremains ended up there. While some of the original remains were claimed by family, more than 400 unclaimed remains were buried in a mass grave at a cemetery in Oakland, California.

Delaware officials contacted Johnston Kohl with the nine names tied to the cremains by documentation. Johnston Kohl has written a book in 2010 called "Jonestown Survivor: An Insider's Look."

Three of the remains were those of close friends in their 20s. She said the remaining were people in their 50s and older. All but one of the nine were women.

After she got the names, in a 24-hour period, she started emailing family and survivors.

One person emailed, "That's my cousin!"

Another was delighted to finally have his wife's remains.

So far, she's found family for five out of the nine cremains. She vows to finish her mission.

"I do believe in the next few days, we'll be able to connect with everybody," said Johnston Kohl.

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