A memorial service honors the 900 who died in the Jonestown, Guyana, murder-suicide in 1978.
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  • On November 18, 1978, more than 900 people died in a mass murder-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. 
    The Jonestown tragedy was the end of Peoples Temple, a religious movement started years earlier by American pastor Jim Jones. Goals of Peoples Temple included racial integration and helping the poor. However, when Jones was accused of tax evasion and cult activity, he moved the headquarters of Peoples Temple from San Francisco, California, to property the group purchased in the jungle of Guyana—a community they nicknamed Jonestown.
    More than 900 people followed Jones to Guyana. So did accusations of illegal activity. In November 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went on a fact-finding mission to see if Jones and other Peoples Temple leaders were brainwashing and abusing members of the organization.  
    Rep. Ryan, three journalists, and a former Temple member were killed at the airport as they tried to leave Guyana. Later that day, Jones ordered his congregation to drink a grape-flavored drink. It was laced with a lethal dose of potassium cyanide. 918 men, women, and children died at Jonestown.
    The poison distributed at Jonestown was not Kool-Aid, but “Drinking the Kool-Aid” has become a phrase used to describe unquestioning loyalty and belief in a person or set of ideas.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    accusation Noun

    charge of wrongdoing.

    accuse Verb

    to blame or charge with a fault or crime.

    brainwash Verb

    to force a radical change in a person's ideas and beliefs, especially by coercive and manipulative psychological methods.

    community Noun

    group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

    congregation Noun

    group of people who worship at the same church.

    cult Noun

    system of spiritual or political devotion, usually derided by more mainstream organizations.

    desert Verb

    to abandon completely.

    dose Noun

    quantity of a substance, usually a medicine, taken at one time.

    headquarters Noun

    place where an organization or project is chiefly located.

    illegal Adjective

    forbidden by law.

    include Verb

    to contain.

    integration Noun

    process of mixing different substances or groups.

    journalist Noun

    person who reports and distributes news.

    jungle Noun

    tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    lace Verb

    to add a small, usually undetectable amount, of a substance to something.

    lethal Adjective


    loyalty Noun

    faithfulness or consistency.

    mass Adjective

    having to do with a large number of people or things.

    murder Verb

    to kill a person.

    pastor Noun

    spiritual leader of a church.

    poison Noun

    substance that harms health.

    potassium cyanide Noun

    (KCN) highly toxic, water-soluable salt.

    property Noun

    goods or materials (including land) owned by someone.

    purchase Verb

    to buy.

    suicide Noun

    intentional taking of one's own life.

    tax evasion Noun

    failure or refusal to pay taxes.

    tragedy Noun

    very sad event.