John Cobb: Where is the Jonestown Survivor Now?

It was November 18, 1978, when everything turned upside down for John Cobb as the only community he’d ever known was utterly destroyed by the actions of their own paranoid leader. Jim Jones of Peoples Temple had actually ordered his followers to commit mass murder-suicide, as explored in Hulu’s ‘Cult Massacre: One Day in Jonestown,’ resulting in the loss of 918 lives. However, the former managed to survive by sheer luck as he wasn’t at their titular remote settlement in Guyana on that fateful day — he was around 150 miles away in the city of Georgetown.

John Cobb Was Born Into Peoples Temple

Since Peoples Temple was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, as a sect combining Christianity, communism, socialism, and integration ideologies, the Cobb family was among the first to join. It thus comes as no surprise that when John came into this world in 1960, he essentially came as a member owing to his parents as well as older siblings’ already well-established devotion. So, of course, they even followed their leader, Jim Jones, as he relocated to California and then to Guyana, where the Peoples Temple Agricultural Commune (aka Jonestown) was carefully built.

Though it’s imperative to note that the Cobb family’s loyalty towards this organization was not blind — they truly believed in the message Jim Jones was initially spreading: equality-based utopia. In fact, according to reports, John used to participate in several non-violent protests or rallies alongside social justice trailblazers as a youngster, all of which were supported by the institution. That’s how the idea of Jonestown came up in the first place — Jim wanted to build a place where there were workers’ rights, housing solidarity, plus racial justice — an alternative path of society.

John has since actually conceded he sees little difference between the realities of then and now, which is why the people of Jonestown were immensely proud of their way of life at one point. Little did they know their entire world would soon shatter apart as Jim would evolve into a paranoia-prone, power-hungry addict, only for it to ultimately lead to hundreds of lives being lost. Amongst them were the former’s mother, five siblings, plus five other close relatives, meaning he lost 11 family members to the cyanide poisoning their leader had ordered on a fateful 1978 evening.

John Cobb Has a Lot of Pain and Regret Over the Incident

While it’s true John was a significant part of Jim Jones’ personal security detail in Guyana despite being merely 18 around November 1978; he was not even in Jonestown at the time of the chaos. Instead, he was in a cinema hall in Guyana’s capital city Georgetown, celebrating an exciting basketball match against the national team even though they’d lost by ten points — the Peoples Temple team was unaware of everything transpiring in the place they called home. He hence has survivor’s guilt, and he also never shies away from his belief that he could’ve stopped these mass deaths in the first place if he’d been there, yet he has learned to live with the what-ifs.

We should mention John was one of the few survivors to return to Johnstown within days to help officials identify bodies, but he has since admitted it was more of a mission of hope for him. “That if people weren’t there, they were missing. We would know where to go look for them in the bush [in the nearby forest]…,” he said in the aforementioned docuseries. “Um, it was just really… it was a hard scene to look at. I will never forget it. We start seeing our relatives. All my family. All my family. Some of my younger brothers and sisters were together, so I put a sheet over them… I lost 11.”

It’s thus not surprising that with his immense grief, the extensive media coverage, as well as the public scrutiny, John initially tried to move on by not talking about his past upon returning to the US. He simply settled down in the San Francisco Bay Area, tied the knot with the love of his life, and welcomed a daughter into his world, all the while owning-operating his own furniture business. But alas, following nearly three decades, he knew it was time for him to open up to not only clear the false information widely spread about his former community but also truly heal from the inside out.

John Cobb is Dedicated to Keeping the Lost Ones’ Memories Alive

Once John began talking about his past, his experiences in Jonestown, the actions of Jim Jones, and its ultimate aftermath, he felt in his heart the need to formalize the victims’ memorial — a lone, marked gravestone — at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California. Therefore, in 2011, alongside two fellow survivors, he formed the Jonestown Memorial Committee to raise funds for plaques that would commemorate all 918 individuals who lost their lives on the fateful November 18, 1978, including James “Jim” Joines to be historically accurate. These granite plaques are now in front of the gravestone, with beautiful white rocks forming a thick border around them.

However, that’s not all; at 64, John stops by this memorial once a month like clockwork to do some maintenance plus to check if all is okay, insisting he’ll tend to it as long as he’s alive. Furthermore, prior to each anniversary of the heartbreaking day, he makes extra efforts to ensure everything shines so as to truly pay homage to all the victims — he wants it to be known the names on these plaques are not just names; they were once real people. As for his personal standing, well, this East Bay resident remains a proud husband, father of one, business owner, dog lover, as well as public speaker to this day.

Read More: Grace Stoen: Where is the Ex-Peoples Temple Member Now?