Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jonestown Suicide Count Almost Doubled

Actually, it significantly more than doubled: 405 to 912.

They couldn't just go to the government of Forbes Burnham to get the immigration records for a count of the Americans since officials in Guyana had agreed to overlook the technical niceties of such paperwork in order to facilitate the "mass" influx of new arrivals. One observer was gobsmacked by the deaths of hundreds of children since the majority of them had only arrived four months previously. The early reporting consistently characterized the colony as having been established the year previously. Apparently, the advance work that had been going on for four years, and which may have consisted of up to 50 persons at various times, used temporary visas, and may have been focused on different priorities than the establishment of a productive, self-sustaining agricultural commune infrastructure. Hence the pittance of tiny immature show orchards put in as window dressing instead of the real deal. A longer term future was never projected for the Peoples Temple than the one they achieved. And while the controlling level is always willing to break eggs to make omelettes, they are loath to spend the real money if they think they can safely cut corners.

The "temporary" structures built for housing near the airport were of a far more substantial and useful nature than the porch-less shacks put up to house people of color and I can only imagine what the teenagers who made use of the "loft" spaces under the tin roofs had to endure in sweat to gain some privacy and autonomy.

19-year-old Stephen Jones had a wide screened porch on his large house, but then again, he also had an air-conditioner humming away too.

November 24, 1978, Kentucky New Era / AP, Jonestown Suicide Count Almost Doubled, by Lew Wheaton,


Not Leo's best look for this kind of announcement.

November 19, 1978, The Milwaukee Journal / UPI, AP, Washington Post, California Congressman Shot in Guyana Attack, [nearest approximate link]

Georgetown, Guyana -- US Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif), on a mission to check reports that Americans were being kept prisoner at a religious colony, was shot and perhaps killed along with others in an ambush at a landing strip Saturday.

Georgetown police quoted police in Port Kaituma, about 150 miles northwest of the capital, as confirming that "about 20 people" were killed in a gun attack at the local airport.

The State department in Washington confirmed a report by a pilot who managed to escape that the attack took place. But it could not confirm that any of the party of about 25, including Ryan, had been killed.

Ryan, 53, was escorting nine Americans from the Peoples Temple religious settlement who apparently had decided to return to the United States.

Jeff Dieterich, of the State Department's Latin American desk, said that when the group had boarded one of two planes awaiting Ryan's party, one of the nine pulled a gun and began shooting.

After that person opened fire inside the plane, Dieterich said, a tractor pulling a trailer arrived at the jungle landing strip and more shots were fired by those in the trailer. The fire damaged one plane so extensively that it was abandoned.

The pilot and crew from the plane that was to carry the departing sect members jumped from the plane, Dieterich said, ran to a second plane and flew from the remote Port Kaituma strip.

The pilot reported general panic, with Ryan and an NBC news crew lying as if dead, others still moving but

Turn to Attack, page 22, Col 1.

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