GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Nov. 20, 1978 (UPI) --A Guyana government official said today the band of American religious fanatics who massacred a California congressman and four members of his party has begun a wave of mass suicide and murder that has left 400 persons dead and 600 missing.
Guyana Minister of Information Shirley Field-Ridley, who at first reported the mass suicide, said Guyanese troops today captured the headquarters of the People's Temple, in the jungle city of Jonestown, and found that some of the victims apparently were murdered.
Mrs. Field-Ridley told a news conference that some of the victims "showed signs of violence, including presumed gunshot wounds, which were not consistent with suicide." She said some of the victims showed no signs of violence and were presumed to have been poison victims.
She said a man who fled from the religious community headed by a Californian, the Rev. Jim Jones, reached a police station in the jungled interior of Guyana Sunday and reported that leaders of the sect were preparing for a mass suicide by poisoning.
Jones, 46, variously called himself the "prophet of God" and "father" and preached a flamboyant mixture of old-time faith healing, racial integration and socialism.
Mrs. Field-Ridley said, "some of the bodies were found in homes, some were found in clearings in the forests, but no live persons were found... The troops are searching for them. We estimate some 600 persons may be missing."
It was not immediately known if they had fled into the jungle surrounding the People's Temple 150 miles west of Georgetown near the Venezuelan border or if they were dead.
The bizarre case blazed into violence at 4:20 p.m. Saturday when an ambush by members of the sect at a jungle airport killed Rep. Leo J. Ryan, D-Calif., and four other Americans when Ryan was leaving with 20 members of the sect after investigating reports that many Americans were being held against their will.
Killed with him were NBC television reporter Don Harris, 42, NBC cameraman Robert Brown, 36, both of Los Angeles; San Francisco Examiner photographer Gregory Robinson, 27, and Patricia Park, 18, an American settler.
Mrs. Field-Ridley said troops had been unable to locate Jones, a former San Francisco Housing Authority director but refugees said he had forced his followers -- known locally as "a bunch of crazies" -- to make a suicide pact with him and predicted all 1,200 members of the sect would die.
Mrs. Kathy Hunter, a free-lance writer from Ukiah, Calif., who is familiar with the People's Temple sect, said a Guyanese parliament member had told her in a telephone conversation that Jones had committed suicide -- a fate many cultists had predicted for the bizarre figure.
Mrs. Field-Ridley said U.S. lawyers Mark Lane and Charles Garry were in Georgetown and not in custody. They had been at the settlement when the shooting incident occurred. She said she did not where they were staying.
Lane and Garry accompanied Ryan on the investigative trip as attorneys for the religious leader. Lane wrote Ryan an unfriendly letter Nov. 6 speaking of "dire consequences" if the American government continued to harass the Peoples Temple, Ryan's administrative assistant Joe Holsinger said in Washington.
A short time before the massacre on the airstrip, Ryan had escaped a knife attack by a young cultist in the Jonestown compound. The congressman, whose shirt was drenched with his assailant's blood, credited Lane with saving his life at that time, but he lived only a few minutes longer.
Mrs. Field-Ridley said one suspect, Larry Layton, 32, an American member of the sect, had been arrested but no charges had yet been filed. Police reported nine other suspects had been arrested in connection with the murder of the California congressman.
The minister also confirmed that a mother and her three children, members of the sect, were found with their throats cut in Georgetown in a presumed murder-suicide. The sect maintained an office in Georgetown, the capital.
"Nothing indicates the suicides at Jonestown were ritual," she said.
She said action to be taken by Guyanese government "would depend upon the decision of our leader," Prime Minster Forbes Burnham. She said a former member of the sect was cooperating with troops in the chore of body identification and that a list of the dead would be provided to U.S. media as soon as identification was made.
Ryan was visiting the remote headquarters of the San Francisco-based cult to investigate charges by his constituents that their relatives were being held against their will and subjected to sexual and mental intimidation.
Cult gunmen ambushed and killed Ryan, three U.S. newsmen and a woman. The victims were gunned down and then shot through the heads at point-blank range, survivors said.
The ambushers struck as the 53-year-old congressman and his party of 27 - including 16 supposed cult defectors - waited at a nearby dirt airstrip to board two airplanes to take them to Georgetown.
A fake defector from the People's Temple started shooting and more attackers - blacks and whites - opened fire from a flatbed trailer truck.
Ten Americans were wounded and 10 others were still missing. The State Department said late yesterday that two prominent U.S. lawyers, Mark Lane and Charles Garry, were reported to be still at Jonestown.
The FBI in San Francisco said agents were assigned to question People's Temple adherents there to determine whether a conspiracy or any other violation of U.S. federal law was involved in the ambush.
NBC field producer Robert Flick described the massacre.
"There were two shots as the plane was being loaded. The left part of the plane was shot away," Flick said in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he had flown from Georgetown.
"There were 50 to 75 shots. People were being wounded and falling to the ground, and as they fell people with shotguns would walk over and at point blank range shoot people in the head. Congressman Ryan died in this manner."