Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cult Head Leads 408 to Deaths in Suicide-Murders, by Leonard Downie, Jr.

November 21, 1978, The Washington Post, Cult Head Leads 408 to Deaths in Suicide-Murders, by Leonard Downie, Jr.

GEORGETOWN,Guyana---With exhortations on the "beauty of dying," the Rev. Jim Jones led 409 of his followers in the Peoples Temple Church to a mass suicide-murder and was himself shot to death, according to reports yesterday from the scene of the massacre.

Guyanese authorities said most of the victims appear to have been killed with poison drawn from a vat set in a clearing in Jonestown, the agricultural settlement where Jones' cult was based. Only three bodies had gunshot wounds.

By late yesterday only a dozen of the several hundred residents of Jonestown who apparently fled into the surrounding forest had returned to the compound. Authorities said the returnees were helping to identify the dead.

A survivor of the mass murder-suicide told an investigating group that visited Jonestown yesterday that the poison consisted of cyanide mixed with Kool-aid in a vat. It was administered by Jonestown's staff doctor and nurses to men, women, children and babies. Those who tried to refuse the poison, or escape were forced by armed guards to take it.


Although Guyanese authorities also were aware of the shootings at the Port Kaituma airstrip eight miles from Jonestown on Saturday night the Guyanese military did not move in to secure the area and remove the wounded and survivors until Sunday morning. The State Department said in Washington the delay was due to the lack of lights at the Port Kaituma airstrip.

Mark Lane said yesterday that he sensed an undercurrent of danger as soon as the two chartered planes from Georgetown carrying Ryan's party landed on the grass airstrip Friday.

Lane recalled that Jones, who had asked Lane to come to protect him from harassment from Ryan and his group, at first was not going to let anyone into Jonestown.

Lane said Jones had become "paranoid" about stories in the U.S. press that people had been impressed into the cult and were being held against their will under terrible conditions in Jonestown. He said Jones had threatened to have all the Jonestown residents commit suicide about a year ago, but that Jones was talked out of it by long distance pleas from Black Panther Huey Newton, Angela Davis and others.


Then, shortly after most of Ryan's party and those residents Jones allowed to leave had started down the dirt track from Jonestown to the airstrip in a falling rain, came the knife incident.

Lane gave the following account:

One of Jones' top lieutenants, Don Sly, suddenly grabbed Ryan around the neck with his left arm, placed a knife against Ryan's neck with his right hand, and shouted: "Congressman Ryan, you mother---."

While Ryan struggled to push the man's hands away from his neck, Lane grabbed Sly's arms from the front and Gerry, 69, grabbed Sly from behind.

Finally, "all kinds of people from the temple moved in," Gerry said, and pulled Sly away from Ryan as the congressman fell to the floor. Sly's hand was cut in the struggle and blood from that cut was all over the congressman's clothes. Some Jonestown residents gave Ryan a clean set of clothes to changes into later on the plane.

Jones calmly watched this incident from some distance, making no move. Lane and Ryan told Jones that police and a doctor must be called at once. Jones said they would be, but no one came.

Jones, visibly shaken, then sat down to talk to Ryan.

"Does this change things?" Jones asked Ryan, who told Jones that he still saw many positive things in Jonestown but that the knife incident did change his impression.

Ryan then asked Lane, "Are you mad at me?"

"No," Lane said. "I'm so grateful that you came here."

"I'll always be grateful that you saved my life," Ryan told Lane.

Lane said he responded by joking with the congressman: "Now no one can call this trip a junket.

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