They died of cyanide poisoning and gunshot wounds.
The Peoples Temple
The bodies of 912 people were found – these included men, women and children, in a commune style settlement in the middle of Guyana, in South America.
This news came shortly after the reported death of a US Congressman Leo Ryan and his entourage, who were reportedly murdered at the airstrip while attempting to leave.
Slowly the news filtered in, and as it did, the horrible truth was revealed.
Jim Jones was not a fan of the US Government. He did not like the democratic society, which would allow his followers the freedom to do as they wished, instead of how he desired. His dream was to create a settlement in a land where the US Government had no say. Where he would not be censored and made to follow others rules. Before long he entered into a lease agreement with the Guyanese Government for over 3,000 acres of land in a remote area in the middle of a jungle.
Although far from complete, several hundred members of Peoples Temple flew to Guyana overnight, fleeing from the United States due to an expose which was to be released on Jim Jones. This article was a ‘tell all’ document, including interviews with ex-members – those who got out alive anyway.
With nearly a thousand people now in residence at Guyana, things were not going well. There were not enough buildings to house everyone. Segregation was enforced, creating male and female dormitories, which included the separation of married couples. People worked 11 hour days, planting crops, building accommodation etc, and were forced to listen to the propaganda of Jim Jones on a loud speaker all day, and very often into the night. This did not please many of the exhausted members of Peoples Temple, who simply wanted to sleep.
As far as he could see, everything looked fine. The people looked happy and content with their lot in life. Jim Jones appeared a benevolent benefactor who loved and provided for his large family. Congressman Ryan was ready to leave and fly home, satisfied with his dealings and ready to proclaim that this created utopia was working, when he was slipped a note at dinner with the names of people who were desperate to flee.
Ryan spoke one on one with some of the members, and they advised how they were unhappy with the arrangements, and wanted to leave, but the compound was surrounded by miles and miles of jungle, as well as armed guards, so they did not like their chances.
Unfortunately for all involved, when they arrived at the airstrip, the planes were not ready for takeoff, so they were required to sit and wait. While they were waiting, trucks and tractors drove up to the planes on the strip and opened fire, killing 5 people, including US Congressman Leo Ryan.
Every ‘worst case scenario’ you can imagine, he told his followers, and they, trusting him, believed him. He said that the only way to prevent the painful death the US Government had planned for them was to take their own lives, in what he termed ‘the revolutionary act’... A tape of the Temple's final meeting was recorded. It contains repeated discussions of the group committing "revolutionary suicide", including reference to people taking poison and the vats to be use.
Many did try to flee when it came time to drink the poison, but they were shot by the armed guards who were always present. Not all were killed though – it was estimated that there were over 1100 people in the compound at the time of the mass suicide, with 912 dying from poison or gunshot wounds. The rest fled into the jungles.
Jim Jones died from a single gunshot wound to the head. It is not clear if he shot himself, or if someone else took the shot for him.