People

ESCAPE FROM JONESTOWN

As a child, Tracy Parks fled the Peoples Temple compound just hours before Jim Jones led his followers in the largest mass suicide in history. Now, 40 years later, she’s sharing her story
‘NO ONE IS ALIVE’ Jonestown survivor Tracy Parks (today and at age 12) recalls the horror she felt when she learned of the mass suicide in which Jim Jones and 908 of his followers died on Nov. 18, 1978. “I knew Jim Jones wanted us dead,” she says.

Tracy Parks knelt on the rain-soaked, muddy airstrip, cradling her mother’s lifeless body, shaking her, trying to wake her up. The explosion of gunfire had stopped, but all around her the 12-year-old saw bodies—some dead, others bleeding and moaning. “Get in the jungle,” her father, Jerry, screamed. “Run. I’ll take care of your mother.” Tracy looked up to see her older sister Brenda, 18, sprinting across the runway toward the dark wall of trees. Before the younger girl knew it, she was right behind Brenda, racing toward the dense Guyana rain forest. “I was panicking; I wasn’t thinking. I felt like I wasn’t in my body,” remembers Tracy. “We were so scared we just kept running.”

When the fever-ridden, nearly unconscious sisters staggered out of the jungle three days later, it was into a world of almost unimaginable horror. More than 900 members of the Peoples Temple religious sect—the group that she and her family had been attempting to flee when they were ambushed—had committed mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced grape punch. Among the dead: 304 children. Their bodies, along with that of their charismatic, psychotic leader, Jim Jones, now lay rotting in the intense equatorial heat at the group’s compound, known as Jonestown. The Parks girls—along with their father, brother Dale, 26, and grandmother Edith

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