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November 19, 2018

Horrible Photos From the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, the Worst Mass Murder-Suicide in U.S. History

November 18 marked the 40th anniversary of the mass murder-suicide of more than 900 people, most of them Americans who were members of a California-based cult called the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, run by the reverend Jim Jones. Until 9/11, it was the largest loss of American citizens in a single incident.

Jim Jones, an evangelist from San Francisco, had founded Jonestown in the South American nation earlier in the 1970s. He chose Guyana as the site for his “utopia” to get out of the reach of U.S. authorities and news media, and because the government of Guyana offered a hands-off posture, as long as the right hands were greased.

Jones was not your ordinary evangelist. Unlike many of his counterparts of the day, who were often regarded as cult leaders, he easily moved among the movers and shakers of California. He was appointed chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority by the mayor, and was even honored at a testimonial dinner attended by the governor.

Jones had founded the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the late 1950s as a “socialist paradise.” But he met with resistance because of his politics. He moved the church to San Francisco. But the move also exposed the church to increased media scrutiny, so Jones chose the remote Guyana site.

Throughout the 1970s, he recruited hundreds of members to move to what was dubbed Jonestown and begin building the colony. Pressure began to build back home, however, as relatives of Peoples Temple members claimed the members were being prevented from leaving Jonestown.

In November of 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan of San Francisco led a delegation that included the media and family members to Jonestown. They were initially denied entry, but Jones later relented. While Ryan and his party were there, a member slipped NBC News reporter Don Harris a note saying they were being held captive.

Ryan and his party, along with about a dozen defectors, departed for a nearby airstrip. But before they could board the planes, they were ambushed by Peoples Temple gunmen. Ryan, Harris and several others were killed on the runway.

Back at the colony, Jones, knowing his days were numbered, ordered a pre-planned mass suicide. This was carried out by forced-feeding of cyanide-laced grape drink to members, which included many children. Many people, including Jones, died of gunshot wounds.

When U.S. authorities arrived, they found almost 1,000 bodies (including some 300 age 17 and under), bloated by the jungle heat. Most of the remains were buried in a mass grave near San Francisco, and the jungle reclaimed the site.

This led to the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid,” often directed to somebody who holds unquestioned beliefs. Ironically, authorities determined Jones used Flavor-Aid, a similar product, for the poison. All these years Kool-Aid has been getting a bad rap.

An aerial shot of the mass suicide of the religious cult, The Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones, 1978, Jonestown, Guyana. (AP Photo)

Dead bodies lie near the compound of the People’s Temple cult on Nov. 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana after over 900 members of the cult, led by Reverend Jim Jones, died from drinking cyanide-laced Kool Aid; they were victims of the largest mass suicide in modern history. Bows and arrows in the foreground which were used by fanatical followers of Jim Jones to keep people from running away. (Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

The mass suicide of the religious cult, The Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones, Nov. 18, 1978, Jonestown, Guyana. (AP Photo)

Jonestown, Guyana, mass suicide cult led by Jim Jones on Nov. 18, 1978. (AP Photo)

Bodies lie about a building at the People’s Temple Commune in Jonestown, Guyana, Nov. 18, 1978 after more than 400 people committed suicide in one of the decade’s worst tragedies. (AP Photo/Frank Johns)

The bodies of the Jonestoen, Guyana mass-suicide victims lie face down atop one another, Nov. 18, 1978. (AP Photo/Frank Johnston)

Bodies from a mass suicide victims lie around the pavilion of People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana as an onlooker in gas mask stands by, Nov. 18, 1978. Body at left on the steps of the building is believed to be that of cult leader Jim Jones and that of the woman lying face up in dark slacks in foreground believed to be Jone’s wife. (AP Photo/Frank Johnston)

Villagers look on as Capt. Gerry Gouveia, a commercial pilot, directs grass-clearing at the remote airstrip where gunmen ambushed and killed U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan and four others on Nov. 18, 1978. Later, the Rev Jim Jones and 912 other people died in a bizarre suicide-massacre at the Jonestown commune a few miles away. (AP Photo/Robert Glass)

Communist literature litters the floor of the library at Jonestown, Guyana, Nov. 27, 1978. Government officials went to Jonestown to take inventory and close up the settlement. Survivors of the cult, The People’s Temple, visited the Soviet Embassy in Georgetown Monday. (AP Photo/Charles Harrity)

Syringes surround one of the vats used to mix up the position drink used in a mass suicide for 918 people at the religious cult town of Jonestown, Nov. 18, 1978, Guyana. (AP Photo/Pool/Val Mazzenga)

Some of the letters that were found outside the home of Jim James Jones, where a mass suicide claimed 912 lives, Nov. 26, 1978, Jonestown, Guyana. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)

Bottle of poison and a syringe which belonged to members of the Peoples Temple cult, who participated in a mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana on Nov. 18, 1978. (AP Photo)

Bottles of poison which belonged to members of the Peoples Temple cult, who participated in a mass suicide, Nov. 18, 1978, in Jonestown, Guyana. (AP Photo)

Stack of U.S. passports that belonged to members of the Peoples Temple cult, who participated in a mass suicide, Jonestown, Guyana on Nov. 18, 1978. (AP Photo)

Congressman Leo Ryan sits on a runway Nov. 18, 1978 in Port Kaituma, Guyana after he was shot and killed by members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple cult while boarding the plane after paying an investigative visit to the cult’s compound in Jonestown, Guyana. That same day, precipitated by the shootings, over 900 members of the People’s Temple Cult led by Reverend Jim Jones died in Jonestown, Guyana of mass murder and suicide. (Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Leo J. Ryan (D- Calif.), and three newsmen were killed in an ambush in northern Guyana on Nov. 17, 1978 after visiting the jungle headquarters of a controversial American religious sect. From left to right are: Ryan, 53; Don Harris, 41, an investigative Reporter for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles; Robert Brown, 36, a cameraman with NBC news; Greg Robinson, 27, a photographer with the San Francisco Examiner. One other person was reported killed and seven or eight were wounded in the attack, according to the Guyana government. (AP Photo)

People’s Temple follower Larry Layton, center stands with police following his arrest Nov. 18, 1978 in the shooting of two people on a remote Guyana airstrip. That same day, precipitated by the shootings, over 900 members of the People’s Temple Cult led by Reverend Jim Jones died in Jonestown, Guyana of mass murder and suicide. Larry Layton was convicted in 1986 by a federal jury in San Francisco of conspiring in the 1978 murder of California congressman Leo Ryan and aiding and abetting in the attempted murder of Richard Dwyer, a U.S. diplomat wounded in the attack. Layton’s sister Debbie’s departure from the Peoples Temple and denunciation of Jones in May 1978 led her brother to leave California to join the settlement in Guyana. (Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Peoples Temple compound, mass suicide cult led by Jim Jones, after bodies were removed at Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. (AP Photo)

The scene at People’s Temple, Jonestown, Guyana after mass suicide by cult led by Jim Jones on Nov. 18, 1978. (AP Photo)

The scene at People’s Temple, Jonestown, Guyana, after mass suicide by cult led by Jim Jones on Nov. 18, 1978. (AP Photo)

View of the partially collapsed main pavillion in the Jonestown compound, Guyana, Nov. 28, 1978. The site was host to a mass suicide led by the Reverend Jim Jones of more than 900 of his Peoples Temple followers. (Photo: New York Times Co./Neal Boenzi/Getty Images)

Members of a US military team prepare aluminum coffins for shipment to the United States, following the more than 900 deaths in the mass suicide staged in Jonestown by members of the People’s Temple and their leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, Georgetown, Guyana, Nov. 24, 1978. (Photo: New York Times Co./Neal Boenzi/Getty Images)

U.S. troops seal up shipping containers that hold the bodies of mass suicide victims from Jonestown, Nov. 23, 1977 at Georgetown, Guyana. Stacks of containers are in background. They will be flown on to the U.S. by Air Force planes. (AP Photo)



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