In Jonestown, Guyana, Jim Jones led his Peoples Temple cult to a mass murder-suicide that claimed 918 lives in all, close to 900 of the members that died were African-American. Over 270 children died that day.
Congressman Leo J. Ryan is murdered by members of the Peoples Temple hours earlier.
To the extent the actions in Jonestown were viewed as a mass murder, it was the largest such event in modern history and resulted in the largest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the events of September 11, 2001.
AIRSTRIP MURDERS: Before leaving Jonestown for the airstrip, Congressman Ryan told Temple attorney Charles Garry that he would issue a report that would describe Jonestown “in basically good terms.” Ryan stated that none of the 60 relatives Ryan had targeted for interviews wanted to leave, the 14 defectors constituted a very small portion of Jonestown’s residents, that any sense of imprisonment the defectors had was likely because of peer pressure and a lack of physical transportation, and even if 200 of the 900+ wanted to leave “I’d still say you have a beautiful place here.”
Similarly, Washington Post reporter Charles Krause stated that, on the way back to the airstrip, he was unconvinced that Jonestown was as bad as defectors had claimed because there were no signs of malnutrition or physical abuse, while many members appeared to enjoy Jonestown and only a small number of the over 900 residents elected to leave.
Despite Garry’s report, Jones told him “I have failed.” Garry reiterated that Ryan would be making a positive report, but Jones maintained that “All is lost.”
A 44-minute cassette tape (the “death tape”) recorded at least part of a meeting Jones called under the pavilion in the early evening. Before the meeting, aides prepared a metal vat with Flavor Aid, poisoned with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide, and Phenergan.
When the assembly gathered, referring to the Ryan delegation’s air travel back to Georgetown, Jones told the gathering “one of the people on that plane is gonna shoot the pilot, I know that. I didn’t plan it but I know it’s going to happen. They’re gonna shoot that pilot and down comes the plane into the jungle and we had better not have any of our children left when it’s over, because they’ll parachute in here on us.”
Parroting Jones’ prior statements that hostile forces would convert captured children to Fascism, one temple member states: “The ones that they take captured, they’re gonna just let them grow up and be dummies.”
Read about the airstrip murders and the mass suicide at: Daily Black History Facts