On November 18, 1978, members of the Peoples Temple were living in Guyana. They had established a base called the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (later referred to as “Jonestown”), which was situated on an airstrip at Port Kaituma and Georgetown. In this article, you will learn more about the tragedy that took place in Jonestown.
The Jonestown Tragedy
The growing rumors of abuse concerning the cult started to stir interest in political circles. U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California traveled to the compound with a group of reporters to investigate the claims. When a few members attempted to leave with the congressman’s group, Jim Jones ordered an ambush at the nearby airstrip. Following the incident, Jones ordered his members to commit suicide by drinking grape-flavored Kool-Aid that had been laced with potassium cyanide.
Jonestown became the site of mass killings that took the lives of 918 people. Men, women and children died on that day along with other murdered individuals, such as Congressman Leo Ryan. More than 270 children were victims of the mass suicide. Before the 9/11 attacks, the incident was known as the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster.
It was no accident that a mass suicide took place at Jonestown. Weeks before Leo Ryan’s death, according to some of the survivors, Jones led a series of “suicide drills.” After an alarm sounded, every person in the camp would line up to receive his or her deathly dose of Kool-Aid. The adults participated in the drills, knowing full well what to expect if the drill were to become a reality.
Unfortunately, the Peoples Temple did not start out with the intentions of controlling the minds of their members. At first, the group was established as an interracial mission that aided the sick, homeless and jobless. Jones did not take the organization down a path of ruin until its later years.
When news of the mass suicide hit the United States, the world was shocked and relatives of the victims angered. They went to the headquarters in San Francisco to voice their opinions , camping out in front of the chained gates so they could yell at the members. The media dubbed the Temple, “Cult of Death” and information about the organization hit the covers of Time and Newsweek. Inside, there were still loyalists who had wished they had taken the poison at Jonestown. They had no friends or relatives left. The leader of their religion was gone, leaving them confused about their religious future.
Finally, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors launched an investigation into the activities of the Temple. No criminal wrongdoing was founded against former members, although some agree that initial complaints regarding health and welfare were overlooked.