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The massacre occurred on November 18, 1978, when more than 900 members of an American cult called the Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide-murder under the direction of their leader Jim Jones. Only a few members of Jonestown escaped, some by walking through the jungle.
He launched the Peoples Temple in Indiana during the 1950s. Jones moved his congregation to California in 1965 and gained notoriety with its activities in San Francisco. In the 1970s, following negative media attention, the powerful, controlling preacher moved with some of his followers to the Guyanese jungle, where he promised they would establish a Utopian community.
On November 18, 1978, U.S. Representative Leo Ryan, who had gone to Jonestown to investigate claims of abuse, was murdered along with four members of his delegation. Leo Ryan, and others were gunned down while boarding a small Twin Otter aircraft in Port Kaituma. That same day, Jones ordered his followers to ingest poison-laced punch while armed guards stood by.
Today, not much remains of the site in northwestern Guyana where the socialist commune once existed. The majority of the commune’s buildings were bulldozed by the government of Guyana for security reasons, and the surrounding jungle has grown over where the buildings once stood.
Prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the tragedy at Jonestown marked the single largest loss of U.S. civilian lives in a non-natural disaster.