Three survivors of the Port Kaituma airstrip massacre that occurred shortly before the mass murder and suicide event that left over 900 people dead began at the nearby Jonestown compound in 1978 are speaking out about the tragedy in a new special.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Stephen Sung, who had been working as a sound man for NBC on the trip, recall how they were forced to huddle on an airstrip overnight on the verge of death after the plane they were supposed to leave on took off without them after nine men opened fire on the group.
Ron Javers, a reporter who was accompanying the delegation to Jonestown, was not shot in the exchange and able to spend the night at a nearby cafe, where soon after the attack he heard what Jones had planned for his followers.
‘Someone was saying, and I remember this, you know, “They’re killing them, man. They’re killing all the babies,”‘ revealed Javer in an interview that will air Friday on the Dateline NBC special Jonestown: An American Tragedy.
Jones had his followers take their own lives by ingesting grape flavor Kool Aid poisoned with cyanide and Valium.
The three survivors had all traveled down to South America as part of a delegation lead by Congressman Leo Ryan, who represented the California district where many Jonestown members had lived before joining Jim Jones in Guyana.
Ryan agreed to take the trip after a number of concerned relatives and friends began to approach him with concern about the safety and well being of their loves ones.
He traveled down to Georgetown with a group of 18 people on November 14, and three days later was granted entrance to Jonestown.
Ryan spent time speaking with Jones and members and even spent the night at the settlement, with two individuals expressing a desire to leave Guyana and break free from Jones that first night.
That number quickly began to grow in the morning as the delegation prepared to leave, and in at least one case two parents found themselves at odds over whether to leave or stay with their child.
Almost immediately after Ryan left Jonestown a loyal member of the group tried unsuccessfully to attack him with a knife.
Then, when the group got to the airfield, they were forced to wait for a second plane since there had been so many more defectors than they had anticipated at first.
It was a while waiting that a group of nine armed men gathered and headed for the airstrip to attack and kill the group, who Jones believed were responsible for tearing apart his cult.