Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Associated Press, Soldiers find 12 fleeing sect survivors, by Martin Merzer,

November 21, 1978, The Spokesman-Review - Associated Press, Soldiers find 12 fleeing sect survivors, by Martin Merzer,


GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) -- Guyanese soldiers searched through a steaming jungle Monday for hundreds of American religious zealots who fled their remote compound after the suicide-murder deaths of at least 409 fellow cultists.

Some were shot, but most apparently lined up and took doses of cyanide poison mixed in a tub with flavored water. A witness said poison was spoon fed to babies.

Several hundred bodies were sprawled around a communal meeting hall, packed so closely together that many had fallen across others who died minutes earlier. Some had embraced as they died.

By dark, police and soldiers had found only 12 survivors from among the estimated 500-900 who had fled into the bush.

All of the settlers were believed to be Americans, most from California.

Those who were killed or took their own lives perished at about the same time Saturday that enraged members of the sect attacked an investigative group led by Rep. Leo J. Ryan, D-Calif. at a dirt airstrip. They killed Ryan, three U.S. newsmen and a woman from the settlement.

By midafternoon, soldiers reported counting the bodies of 163 women, 138 men and 82 children. A police spokesman said later the toll was 409 as the terrible task continued at the settlement in this small South American country tucked beside Venezuela. He said bodies still were being found.

Also found in the fields, huts and dormitories were 17 shotguns, 14 rifles, seven pistols, a flare gun and large amounts of ammunition, government officials said.

Among the dead were the Rev. Jim Jones, founder of the People's Temple settlement called Jonestown, his wife and one of their sons.

Jones, the offspring of an inter-racial marriage, and his followers, both blacks and whites, established the inland settlement last year. It was carved from the jungle in an isolated

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region 150 miles northwest of Georgetown and 50 miles east of the Venezuelan border.

White House press secretary Jody Powell said President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn expressed their "shock and grief" and Carter certainly is taking a personal interest in the tragedy.

Charles Krause, a reporter for the Washington Post who was with the Ryan party Saturday but escaped death, was in a pool of journalists permitted to return to Jonestown with government forces Monday.

He said Jones had been shot in the head and was one of the few to die from a bullet wound. Jones body clothed in black pants and a [ ] casual shirt was on a stage of the meeting hall, Krause said.

Score of bodies were virtually in piles outside the hall and in small groups farther away.

Government investigators told reporters Jones apparently had shot himself. They said most of the dead drank the fruit-flavored water spiked with cyanide, but it appeared some had poison injected in their veins while infants were fed the deadly doses.

Jones' wife and son, one of the couple's seven children, died of poison, the investigators said.

In Washington, it was announced that 150 U.S. servicemen are being assembled at various bases to be flown to Guyana and evacuate the bodies.

John A. Bushnell, head of the special State Department task force on the Jonestown tragedy, said the servicemen will fly to Georgetown and then go to Jonestown by helicopters and transfer the bodies back to Georgetown. He reported a group of 29 U.S. military specialists also would be flown in to help identify the dead.

Odell Rhodes, a 36-year-old teacher and one of the camp survivors, told the pool reporters elaborate preparations were made for the mass suicides and killings triggered by Ryan's visit.

Rhodes said the original plan was for all the people in Ryan's main aircraft to be killed by a gunman who would pose as a defector and get on the plane, then kill the pilot, causing the plane to crash.

He said the man got on the secondary aircraft by mistake at the tiny airstrip in the village of Port Kaituma, eight miles south of Jonestown, then started shooting and other armed men on a truck-trailer also opened fire.

In Washington, the White House said American poison experts were dispatched to Guyana to help in the investigation. A U.S. Air Force C-141 transport arrived at Georgetown's airport, and reportedly a C-5A was scheduled to come in to help carry the bodies back to America.

Denying reports that as many as nine suspects had been arrested in connection with the Ryan ambush, Miss Field-Ridley said only one man had been taken into custody -- American Larry Layton, about 32 years old. His hometown was not known, and she did not reveal the charges against him.

Reporter Tim Reiterman of the San Francisco Examiner, a member of the Ryan group and a survivor, said in a copyright story Monday in the Examiner that Layton was one of several supposed defectors Ryan was trying to escort away from the 27,000-acre commune. The land was leased to the organization by the government of this nation on South America's northeastern shoulder.

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