LEWISBURG - On the morning of Nov. 18, 1979, Tim Carter was a 30-year-old man with a loving family who was deeply invested in the People's Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana, which colloquially was known as Jonestown after the project's founder, Jim Jones. Carter, his brother, sister, wife and young son all were members of the temple, and all deeply invested in its political ideals of racial and economic equality.
Carter's world changed forever later that afternoon. While out on an assignment, Carter and his brother managed to escape the "mass suicide" action within Jonestown, a phrase with which Carter disagrees.
Based on his personal experiences that day and documents recently released from the United States government, Carter believes the majority of those who died at Jonestown were drugged and subsequently murdered by Jones and a select few of his followers.
On March 20, Carter discussed his memories and subsequent discoveries with a group of students and educators at Bucknell University.
"I do not believe we were a cult. The characterization of Jonestown residents as mindless sheep is simply not true," Carter said.
"Nobody forced me into Guyana. Throughout my entire time with the temple, I had complete autonomy," he said.
Carter originally was attracted to the temple for its public works and focus on integration. After returning from his tour as a Marine in Vietnam, Carter sought a way to direct his energies toward positive projects.
He sees his time with the temple as a story of contradictions.
"We did a lot of good before it all went bad," Carter said, recalling programs that fostered literacy and equality among Jonestown members, and the temple's treatment of senior citizens.
"We worked to give the seniors the very best life possible. People say we made them work in the fields. That's simply not true. Nobody made them do anything, but many of those people grew up on farms and enjoyed working with plants," Carter recalled.
Over the years, as Jones grew more powerful, Carter came to mistrust him and his intense supporters. However, his dedication to the temple remained.
"My last two years in the temple, I hated Jim Jones," Carter said.
"For me, it was always more about the team, the family I had found within the temple. Of course I wasn't going to leave, I would have been leaving my brothers and sisters," he said.
Carter believes that only about 40 people voluntarily committed suicide at Jonestown. In particular, he recalled a meeting in September of 1977, where Jones had asked the group how many of them wanted to commit revolutionary suicide. According to Carter, only three people raised their hands.
"I was one of the first people back in Jonestown - I was brought in to identify bodies. I, personally, saw dozens of bodies with abscesses from poison injected into their arms, back, hands and legs," Carter said.
"Children and senior citizens who cannot defend themselves do not commit revolutionary suicide. What happened there was murder," he added.