Jonestown Massacre

Published: 1978
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), at a press conference in San Francisco on February 16, 1979, said that 17 children placed in foster homes in California may have died in the mass suicide of Peoples Temple members in Guyana. He added that preliminary reports from the general Accounting Office indicate another 12 children may still be under the care of Temple members who did not follow Jim Jones to Guyana. (UPI Photo/jh/Files)

Brian McFadden: The most bizarre story of 1978 came from a place called Johnstown. A jungle cult exterminates itself after killing an inquiring Congressman. This is Brian McFadden, a recap of this cult of death after this message...

(message break)

Brian McFadden: California Congressmen Leo Ryan had gone to Guyana to look into a cult called the Peoples Temple, an American group with strict religious and left-wing political inclinations which had set up its headquarters in a place the group leader named after himself, Jonestown.

On his way out of Guyana, a few of the cult members asked Ryan and his party to take them along. The decision to say yes meant death for Ryan and four others. Three news people and would-be defector Patricia Parks were all shot in an airfield ambush, apparently by followers of cult leader Jim Jones.

NBC TV technician Steve Sung was one of those lucky enough to be only wounded...

Steven Sung: "It's this medic who shoot us. They didn't -- they didn't just shoot everybody. When the woman from the Peoples Temple tried to leave, her head got blown off. Don Harris, the Congressman, Bob Frond the cameraman and the still photographer from, Craig Robinson from Examiner, he got his head blow off. Basic -- and fortunately they blow the head off; otherwise, can you imagine bleeding to death in the jungle?"

Brian McFadden: Five other members of the Parks' family also survived, including 18-year-old Brenda Parks...

Brenda Parks: "While I was boarding the plane they started shooting at us, and they killed my mother and some -- a few other people. And after that was, after they quit, then we thought they were leaving. So about five of us got out and ran to the bush, and we'd been there for three days."

Brian McFadden: But back in Jonestown an even more incredible event was taking place, an event few would live to tell about. Hodell Rhodes was one of those few ...

Hodell Rhodes: "Jones tell the public there that these people wouldn't reach the States and that everyone there would commit suicide."

Brian McFadden: As the social scientists began studying Jonestown and all it represents, American helicopters removed the remains of more than 900 men, women and children who followed a man named Jones to a would-be Utopia in the steaming jungles of South America. The event brought this comment from the President of the United States...

President Jimmy Carter: "I don't think that we ought to have an overreaction because of the Jonestown tragedy by injecting Government into trying to control people's religious beliefs, and I believe that we also don't need to deplore on a nationwide basis the fact that the Jonestown cult so-called was typical of America, because it's not."

Brian McFadden: Just what the madness called Jonestown was really all about may never be known.

This is Brian McFadden.