Jonestown survivors who were shot and left for dead recall the horror in new Dateline NBC special
The hour-long Dateline NBC special on the Jonestown massacre, which is considered the largest mass suicide in modern history, will air on July 13
Three survivors from the Port Kaituma airstrip incident that took place just before the mass murder and suicide event that took the lives of more than 900 people in the Jonestown compound are now speaking out about their horrific experience. The event took place in 1978 and the three survivors have come forward to speak about the large-scale tragedy in a new special titles 'Jonestown: An American Tragedy'.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier and former sound man for NBC Stephen Sung spoke about how they were forced to huddle together on the airstrip throughout the night because the plane that was supposed to take them back left without them after the nine men from the Jonestown compound started shooting at the group.
One reporter who was with the delegation but wasn't shot, Ron Javers, spent the night in a cafe nearby and heard about Jones' plan for the murder of followers soon after the delegation was attacked. He said in the interview on the Dateline NBC special 'Jonestown: An American Tragedy' which will air on July 13, "Someone was saying, and I remember this, you know, 'They're killing them, man. They're killing all the babies'." Jones made his followers commit suicide by making them drink a grape-flavored drink that was laced with cyanide and valium.
The three survivors had gone to South America as a part of the delegation that was led by Congressman Leo Ryan who was representing the California district that many of the Jonestown followers had lived in before they joined the infamous cult leader Jim Jones in Guyana. After many of the relatives and friends of the Jonestown followers from his district had approached him with concerns about the welfare and safety of their loved ones in South America, Ryan agreed to pay a visit to the compound.
He went to Georgetown with a group that consisted of 18 people on November 14 of that year and was granted entrance into the compound three days later. Ryan spoke to Jones and some of the followers at length and even spent the night in Jonestown. Two of the followers then spoke about how they wanted to go back to the United States that night. This number mushroomed by the following morning as the delegation was going to leave. Two parents who had approached the Congressman spoke about how they were conflicted about leaving or staying back with their child who was in the compound.
Shortly after, Ryan and his delegation left and almost immediately one loyal member of the cult tried and failed to attack him with a knife. When the group finally made it's way to the airfield, they were forced to wait for an alternate plane as there were many more defectors than what was originally anticipated.
It was at this time that nine armed men made their way to the airstrip and killed the group. Jones was under the impression that it was the delegation's presence at the compound that was tearing his cult apart. The Congressman was one of five people who was killed on the airstrip. NBC cameraman Bob Brown and one Temple defector Patricia Parks were also killed. Speier and Sung managed to survive the attack but they were in for a long night.
After the armed men left the airstrip and the planes took off from there, the two people were alone and in great danger of bleeding to death right there if nothing was done. Speier, who was an aide to Ryan at the time, said in the special: "I should've died on that airstrip. I should have. But it was not part of the plan. I mean, my whole right side of my leg was blown up except for the femoral artery. Had the femoral artery been severed, I would've died in 90 seconds."
Sung was also similarly injured and said that Tim Reiterman had helped him out even though his injuries were also pretty severe. Reiterman made a tourniquet out of his own shirt to help Sung stop the bleeding. He was the one who had first exposed the terrifying truth about what went on in the Jonestown compound in some articles that described the beating some members had to go through. He also spoke about how some of the members were being kept there against their will.
The blood was only one of the problems the survivors had to deal with. The pain they had to endure before being rescued was another matter entirely. Speaking of one NBC newsman who helped her cope with the pain, Speier said: "Bob Flick came a number of times, during the night, and brought me Guyanese rum to take." She also mentions how she "was forever grateful for him doing that".
The hour-long special on the Jonestown massacre, which is considered the largest mass suicide in modern history, will air on July 13 at 10 pm ET/PT, 9 pm CT. The special features an in-depth look at the brave journalists who exposed cult leader Reverend Jim Jones and also has rare footage of the mission from the compound in South America.