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Sat, 11.18.1978

The Jonestown Massacre Occurs

On this date in 1978, the Jonestown Massacre occurred in which 913 people, mostly blacks, committed suicide and died in Jonestown, Guyana.

Jonestown was a commune of the People's Temple Sect, northwest of Georgetown, Guyana, established in 1974 by American Jim Jones, who originally founded the sect among San Francisco's black community.  Shortly before the mass suicide, U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan was killed. Ryan had just landed in Guyana to investigate alleged human rights abuses at Jonestown.  After Ryan was ordered killed by Jones, Jones enforced mass suicide on his followers by instructing them to drink cyanide. The casualties included over 240 children.

Children died first; babies were killed by poison squirted into their mouths with a syringe. Then the adults were poisoned, some forcibly; security guards shot others. Jones was found with a bullet wound in his head, but whether his death was suicide or murder is unknown. When the bodies came home, many could not be identified. Several cemeteries refused to take them until the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland stepped forward in 1979 and accepted 409 bodies. The remaining victims had been cremated or buried in family cemeteries.

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