Rest in Peace, Monika Bagby

Two days ago, I selected a new case from ClaimUs involving a 49 year old Black woman named Monika Sharron Bagby. I was surprised when my initial Google search pulled up “Who Has Died Since 18 November 1987?” On the page it listed a Monica Bagby stating she had been “wounded along with [Vernon] Gosney during the Port Kaituma shooting…. It stated a memorial site for her was under the adopted name Monika Sharron Bagby, the same spelling as the decedent listed on ClaimUs.

I Googled Vernon Gosney’s name along with Monica Bagby, and pulled up Remembering Monica. Gosney’s remembrance explained Monica had been sent to Guyana by her mother, and that she and Gosney had become friends at Peoples Temple. Disillusioned by abuse and violence, they had decided to ask Congressman Ryan to help them leave Jonestown. Sixteen Temple defectors traveled to the Port Kaituma airport with Congressman Ryan that day. According to reports, Monica was seated in the front, next to the pilot when Larry Layton shot her twice in the back before turning his gun on Gosney. Another twelve people were shot by Temple assailants, including Congressman Ryan and four others who died in the attack. Fourteen survived, including Monica.

In Monica Bagby, A Gentle Poet of Uniqueness one of Monica’s former teachers, Elizabeth MacQueen, wrote: “Monica was a gentle giant. Always very aware of her height, weight, and blackness, she had no way to fade into a crowd.” Following her recovery from the horrific assault, Monica spent time with her teacher, but moved on shortly thereafter, changed the spelling of her name to Monika, and the teacher did not see her again. She was, McQueen wrote, “a unique human being that could not be turned into a robotron of hate, propaganda, and control. She was far too quietly independent, with a beautiful mind and heart.”

Yesterday, I provided the names of Monika’s deceased mother and three living siblings to the medical examiner. This morning, the M.E. emailed to say she was able to contact the family with the information I’d provided and would be returning Monika’s remains to them. After the horrific trauma of Jonestown as a young adult, her short life was often difficult. Finally, she will be home.

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