I escaped Jonestown cult when I was 8 – but I lost 27 family members in the Jim Jones' 'Kool-Aid' massacre

A MAN who lost 27 family members in the Jonestown massacre has recounted how he narrowly escaped the same fate after his mother ousted him from the People's Temple before the 'Kool-Aid' mass suicide.

Ed Norwood, 51, the author of 'Be A Giant Killer', was around five years old when his grandmother first took him to a service at 1859 Geary Street, in San Francisco, to hear Reverend Jim Jones speak.



Speaking exclusively to The Sun, Ed said he grew up an only child in the Bay Area but was incredibly close with his seven youngest cousins – Karen, Lisa, Berry, Freddie, Adrian, Cassandra, and Alicia – whom he deemed to be siblings.

With his father out of the picture and his mother, Jynona Norwood, a traveling evangelist, Ed frequently found himself under the care of his grandmother, Fairy Norwood, a member of the People's Temple.

At the time, during the early 1970s, the People's Temple was an immensely popular religious group that had a membership estimated in the thousands and was even endorsed by a number of local left-wing politicians.

Originally founded in Indianapolis in 1954, the church was led by Rev. Jim Jones, a white minister who preached socialist and progressive ideas to a predominantly African-American congregation.

Jones mixed biblical teachings with Marxist theory, something he described as "apostolic socialism", and said he planned to create a "utopia" on earth for his devout followers.

On reflection, Ed said it's "easy" for him to see how his grandmother and other members of his family were swept into Jones' orbit.

"I can't remember when there wasn't free toys or food available," he said. "Jones came in really strategically and fed unmet needs.

"He came into the African-American community during a time of intense poverty and racial inequality.

"But there were also red flags that were ignored," he continued.

Ed said his first-hand memories of the People's Temple and Jim Jones are limited, but he remembered other children his age being "everywhere."

Whenever his mother was out of town, Ed said he would visit the Temple with his grandmother, aunt, his seven youngest cousins, and other family members.

"Every time we showed up there were kids," he remembered. "Kids were everywhere, toys were everywhere, food was everywhere.

"I remembered feeling there was a real sense of community at the Temple, but I had no idea at the time that its leader was a cult leader. I had no idea he was a murderous giant that had an intention to take his members and murder them in a jungle.

"To me, he was simply just the pastor."

RED FLAGS

Ed's opinion of the church, and Jones, would change one Sunday morning in either 1977 or 1978 when he was just seven years old.

The typically vibrant and joyous atmosphere inside the church that day had been displaced by one of noticeable eeriness and darkness, he said.

Ed disturbingly recalled how Jones had instructed some of his followers to set up a make-shift boxing ring on the stage to reprimand a five-year-old boy who had reportedly broken a little girl's leg while playing.

His punishment? Three rounds in the ring with an eight-year-old boy who soon "pounded him into unconsciousness", according to Ed.

"Some of the members cheered," he said, "but many, like my cousins, watched on in horror.

"The message to every family's child that day was fear: 'Whatever happened to this five-year-old boy will happen to you if you act out – you cannot hide. I will find you.'"

The fear-mongering, manipulation, and abuse would gradually intensify before eventually permeating the atmosphere of the Temple.

Similar tales of bullying, physical assault, and even accusations of rampant fraud eventually leaked in the press, sharpening scrutiny on Jones and his congregation.





'PROPHETIC VISIONS'

Ed's mother, Jynona Norwood, had long objected to her mother taking her young son to the Temple.

For months, she had reportedly been haunted by a recurring nightmare that Jones was going to kill Ed, her family, and the rest of the church somewhere in a jungle.

She had attempted to warn Fairy of the dreams, which she believed to be a prophetic vision sent from God, though her concerns were routinely dismissed.

But convinced of an impending massacre, one day, Jynona stormed into the People's Temple in the middle of a service, grabbed her then-eight-year-old son by the arm and attempted to march him outside.

Some of the members of the church intervened resulting in a "human tug of war", according to Ed.

"She was on one side and my family and Temple members were on the other," he said.

"They were trying to pull me back into the building while she was trying to get me out of it.

"I didn't understand why I couldn't be there. I couldn't I didn't understand why I couldn't stay with my cousins. You know, I was the only child so I absolutely love being around my cousins," he added.

"My cousins were there. My grandma, My great grandfather were there. The community was there. And I wanted to be with them.

"But I'm so thankful now that she took me away."

Ed said his mother's actions resulted in a hit being put out on her life by the Temple.

She stopped traveling as an evangelist and moved with Ed to an apartment in Daly City, just outside of San Francisco, to "hide" him from the church as she was fearful Jones would attempt to kidnap him.





It was during this time that Jones, increasingly paranoid by mounting media criticism, announced to the Temple that they would be moving to a compound Guyana, an island off Venezuela, to build a socialist utopia that he promised would be Heaven on Earth.

A short while later, Ed saw his grandmother for what would prove to be the final time. He vividly recalled watching his mother pleading with his grandmother not to go to Guyana, but she refused to listen.

"Her departure for Guyana came on the heels of a bad argument with my late aunt. My grandma had given candy to my cousin, which caused them to get sick and a milk carton was thrown. Harsh words ensued as did a physical altercation that really shouldn't have happened," Ed said.

"I remember her walking painfully to her room after the altercation and I was right behind her, kind of latching onto her waist as she pulled a suitcase out.

"She then began to pack to leave to a place she thought was better than America. She left the following day."

A FAMILY TRAGEDY

Ed's seven closest cousins also followed his grandmother to Guayana in what he said was part of a "kidnapping plot", orchestrated by his aunt without the knowledge of his uncle, the children's father.

"My uncle came home and the house had been ransacked. All of his kids were gone," Ed said. "My heart breaks every time I tell that story because I can't fathom what I would've felt like walking into my home from a day's work to find everything is gone."

The next memory Ed says he has of Jonestown is watching television inside his home in Daly City on November 18, 1978, and seeing the names of more than 900 people scrolling across the screen who had died in Guyana in an apparent mass suicide.

He said he sat stunned as he watched horrific images showing mounds of dead men, women, and children stacked on top of one another deep in the jungle of Jonestown, just as his mother had earlier envisioned.

Among them were 27 of his relatives, including his grandmother, his aunt, and at least 17 children – the youngest of whom was just three months old.

Their deaths came shortly after U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan was shot dead along with four others people by Temple gunman at an airstrip near the Jonestown compound. Ryan had been visiting Guayana to investigate alleged abuses and claims Jones' followers were being held against their will.



In the wake of Ryan's murder, Jones commanded his congregation to drink cyanide-laced punch.

The Temple's 305 children were poisoned first, with syringes used to squirt the poison into the mouths of babies and other young kids.

Then it was the adults' turn, some of whom drank willingly. Others who protested were forced to drink the punch at gunpoint while some were forcibly injected with the drug or shot dead.

Jones, meanwhile, was found with a single gunshot wound to his head. It's been speculated that he may have taken his own life or that his nurse, Annie Moore, fatally shot him at his direction before taking her own life in the same manner.

Prior to 9/11, what became known as the Jonestown massacre was the largest single incident of intentional civilian death in American history.

While the deadly culmination to Jonestown is often referred to as a mass suicide, Ed, and many others closely associated with the tragedy, call it a mass murder and an act of terror.

HELL ON EARTH

"It was an incredibly sad day," Ed said of learning of his family members' fates. "Even at that age, I could sense the gravity of the situation.

"I felt a powerful sense of regret, but also a lot of gratefulness that I wasn't a name on that screen.

"These are people that went to Jonestown carved out in the middle of the jungle, a community that they said a Jones that would be free from racism, prejudice, violence, and he promised them paradise – but when they got there, it was a living hell.

"I should have been one of them by the grace of God I got out and I survived."

Ed's own feelings of relief and gratitude came in contrast to those of his mother, whom he remembers being overcome with anger at the time.

"She was angry. It was especially tough for her because she was able to see and have prophetic dreams that Jones was going to kill members of the church but she wasn't taken seriously," Ed said. "It wasn't just one dream, she had them constantly.

"And then to see your mom and 26 other relatives die in the jungle, she was angry.

"She had been sharing with them incessantly, 'He's going to kill you in the jungle.' And I think this was even long before [Jones] announced that he was carving out Jonestown out of the jungle.

"I can see how it has all devastated and affected her over the years."



Another of Ed's family members besieged by grief was his uncle, who lost all of his seven children in the tragedy.

Ed said his uncle struggled to cope with his profound sense of loss right up until his death a few years ago, seldom speaking about the horrors of Jonestown.

It was his uncle's years of suffering in silence and his own familial ties to Jonestown that inspired him to write his new book, Be A Giant Killer, which was first released in August.

UNDOING PAST MISTAKES

In the book, Ed chronicles the seven "giants" every leader must overcome to live out their wildest dreams and achieve their full potential.

He also highlights – drawing on biblical stories and his family's time in Jones' cult – how our family history can impact all we do in life, holding us back from meeting our true promise should we be doomed to repeat the mistakes of those who came before us.

Explaining the book's premise, Ed said: "I use my family's loss of 27 relatives in Jonestown the illustrate how bad family history and shame can be fatal to our dreams and potential. But how we can also rewrite our destiny by being historic giant killers in our generation.

"I highlight the seven giants that are connected to the things related to us that keep us from being able to allow that little boy or that little girl inside us to speak – things that are rooted in not just family history but rooted in fear, rooted in dissatisfaction, and pride and addictions.

"Our coping mechanisms can be transferred to our children that's rooted in procrastination and laziness and so forth. And I just put together stories that are personal, that are historic, and that are biblical that let people see themselves in a mirror to transform how the generation looking at us now sees us and is influenced by us as well."

He continued: "I think that Jonestown was an example that our decisions always have consequences for people that we love. And there are some things I think that remain in our household from generation to generation.

"I think that there are certain things that pass through generations. And that's really how 27 of my relatives got to Jonestown. It took just one person to be the pioneer to bring 26 other people in.

"So in the book, I challenge people to look at some of the things that may have never left their family or household: the violence, the anger, the resentment, the fiscal irresponsibility, drug use – whatever the case might be.

"You had 900 people, hundreds of families in Jonestown following each other, trying to create a better world for their children next generation following the wrong leader who deceived into believing they can build heaven on earth.

"And it's important that you watch the people that you follow. It's important that you watch the decisions that you make because someone else in your past or your family ancestry, made that decision. It's important that you want these things because these are the giants that we talked about in the book."



'MASS MURDER'

Now 51, Ed has three children of his own and is the founder and president of ERN/The National Council of Reimbursement Advocacy, a non-profit that fights for medically appropriate healthcare. He is also an ordained minister.

Reflecting on the tragedy at Jonestown 43 years on, Ed told The Sun that while as a boy he saw Jones "only as the pastor", as a man he now regards Jones to be one of the most prolific "mass murderers" in history.

"Jim Jones was a punisher and an inflictor of fear," Ed said. "My family ended up dying because he made them fearful of the life they'd lead in America, and promised them tranquility on Guyana, which ultimately led to their demise."

He added: "What happened to my family in 1978 happens in America every single day, in a number of different ways.

"We run for problems. We fail. We make mistakes, we stay in comfort zones. We ignore red flags. We cower in shame or guilt. We stay in unhealthy, abusive or familiar destructive relationships out of fear. We die prematurely taking dreams to the grave.

"And that's what happened to my relatives in Jonestown," Ed said. "But they were brilliant in the sense that they tried to build something – the problem was it just didn't exist.

"They were building what they thought was going to be Heaven on Earth – but Hell was the truth seen too late."

A copy of Ed's book 'Be A Giant Killer' can be purchased here. Information about his 2022 Be A Giant Killer Book Tour can also be found on his website.



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