Bodies of 400 Americans being returned from Guyana

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Nov. 22, 1978 (UPI) - The bodies of more than 400 Americans who poisoned themselves at the behest of their jungle cult leader will be returned to the United States on Thanksgiving Day, an Air Force official said today.

While the dead were loaded onto UH-1 Huey helicopters around the People's Temple altar headquarters in Jonestown, other aircraft with loudspeakers tried to contact an estimated 600 Americans who fled from the mass suicide rite into the jungles.


Guyanese police said they had arrested several persons in connection with the slaying of Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif., and four other members of the congressional party.

Among the suspects being held were Tim Carter, 30, a member of cult from Garden City, Ida., and Larry Layton, another cult member who reportedly was ordered to kill Ryan.

Sgt. Gordon Hunnicut, a spokesman for the Crisis Action Team at Maguire Air Force Base, N.J., said the bodies were being taken by helicopter from Jonestown to the capital city of Georgetown.


From there, Hunnicut said, they will be flown tomorrow to Dover Air Force Base, Del., on C-141 transport planes.

Air Force workers collected the bodies yesterday and early today over a large area around Jonestown, where the cult under the leadership of Rev. Jim Jones committed suicide Saturday night at his command.

"They will be brought back to Delaware on Thanksgiving Day and from there I don't know what will happen to the bodies," Hunnicut said.

The Guyanese government had contemplated immediate burial due to the advanced decomposition of the bodies in the tropical sun.

By today, 174 of the 409 victims had been identified. Almost all were Americans and most of them from California.

Fanatics of the sect hunted down and shot many of those who refused to drink the purple soft-drink mixture laced with cyanide.

Steven Jones, 19, son of the flamboyant cult leader, said yesterday that his father was drugged, ill and paranoid when he ordered the mass suicide and tricked his followers into believing they were merely practicing a suicide ritual.

"I hated him," the youth said. "He became a Fascist... He destroyed everything he lived and worked for."

But observers said it was unlikely the elder Jones could have tricked his followers because the cyanide took five minutes to work and children and pets were given the fatal potion first.


Identification of the victims was extremely difficult because the bodies had been exposed to the harsh tropical sun and heavy tropical rains for 72 hours and were in an advanced state of decomposition.

In most cases, dental charts were the only means of identifying the bodies, many still locked in embraces with their spouses or children.

Guyanese troops and police searched for the survivors who fled the death scene into dense, swampy jungle and piranha-infested rivers when cult guards began shooting commune members who refused the plastic cups of poison.

American officials said U.S. Air Force helicopters flew to Port Kaituma, 150 miles west of the capital of Georgetown, and began flying over the jungle with loudspeakers to inform the survivors that it was now safe to come out of hiding.

Ten Air Force C-141 jet transports loaded with medical and sanitary gear were dispatched from Fort Bragg, N.C., with doctors and paramedics to treat survivors and help

in the cleanup. They were arriving today.

About 100 U.S. military personnel have arrived in Guyana with another 225 due to arrive shortly along with four Medevac and three "Jolly Green Giant" rescue helicopters to aid in the jungle search.

Jones apparently ordered the mass suicide after learning of the failure to eliminate the entire congressional team who visited his settlement to investigate charges that his followers were being held against their will.


In Washington, FBI director William Webster said his agents have begun an inquiry into the Ryan slaying and are interviewing survivors in coordination with the State Department.

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