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by Kalamalama staff


On Nov. 18, 1978, in Guyana, 918 people of the community of Jonestown killed themselves, their children, and each other. On this Nov. 18, Vernon Gosney, a Maui resident and survivor of the tragedy, did his best to commemorate the event and to educate the many of us who were not even born when it happened.

Gosney’s visit to HPU was arranged by Dr. Brian Metcalf, associate professor of Psychology, and Dan Morgan, sociology instructor, in conjunction with the HPU Psychology and Sociology clubs and Psi Chi Honor Society.

“ Gosney recounted his experience and tried to help the audience understand not only the horrific deaths,” Metcalf said, “but also the lives of those people. How could this have happened? Why would those people kill themselves? Why were they in that situation in the first place?
“ Mr. Gosney may be able to help answer those questions,” Metcalf continued, referring to the survivor’s “extremely moving, personal story of hope, despair, tragedy, loss, survival, and back ultimately, to hope.”

Gosney spoke at HPU in October 2005, about his experience and his reasons for joining the People’s Temple and the Jonestown community, and the enormous impact these had on his life. In addition to being shot three times during the attack on Congressman Ryan and his group who were leaving Jonestown, Gosney lost his 5-year-old son and countless other close friends, as well as his hopes and dreams for the movement he had counted on.

“ It was an absolutely riveting hour,” Metcalf said, “perhaps the most amazing, interesting, and touching story I have ever witnessed, and I am absolutely thrilled that students have the opportunity to hear him—especially on the 30th anniversary of the horrific event.

Gosney explained that he joined the People’s Temple, as did thousands of people, eager and hopeful to make the world a better place for themselves and their children.

“ Imagine the horror and crushing disappointment the survivors of this movement had to face, to see their dreams and ideals dashed in such a dramatic and puzzling way,” Metcalf said. “Gosney wanted desperately to make this a better world. Today, he continues to realize that dream in ways that he probably wouldn’t and couldn’t have, imagined or predicted, nor—certainly—would have wanted. One way is by sharing his story with you—helping people understand this horrific event and the people caught up in it—and thereby helping to educate and warn people about some deep realities of normal human nature.”

To learn more about Gosney and his last appearance at HPU, and to listen to an audio recording of that talk, visit: http://www.hpu.edu/index.cfm?contentID=7480.


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