Serial 10

[Editor’s note: This document was released both as a State Department cable as part of its 1981 FOIA release, and as Serial 10 of the FBI’s RYMUR release. The full text was released at https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1978GEORGE03776_d.html.]

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GEORGE 03776 190326Z
ACTION ARA-15
INFO OCT-01 ISO-00 H-01 SS-15 NSCE-00 SSO-00 CIAE-00
DODE-00 PA-01 JUSE-00 TRSE-00 SCS-06 CA-01 MCT-02
INR-10 INRE-00 SY-05 USSS-00 AID-05 SYE-00 CCO-00
/062 W
——————091237 190333Z /64

Z 190315Z NOV 78
FM AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC FLASH 8063
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE GEORGETOWN 3776
AMBASSADOR SENDS
E.O. 11652: NA
TAGS: CASC, OREP (RYAN LEO) GY
SUBJ: CODEL RYAN: SHOOTING INCIDENT AT PORT KAITUMA.
REF: GEORGETOWN 3774.

1. I have just returned from a meeting with Primin [Forbes] Burnham, Deputy Primin [Ptolemy] Reid, Formin Jackson [Foreign Minister Rashleigh Jackson], and Minister of Information Shirley Field-Ridley. Various officers of the Guyana Defense Force were also in attendance. Crews of the two charter aircraft which had been shot at during the incident at Port Kaituma had just arrived and were also present. Following reconstruction of incident is based on their testimony which must be used carefully in view of their understandably emotional state.

2. Both charter aircraft had arrived at Port Kaituma and had commenced loading Congressman Ryan’s party. The smaller of the two, a five-passenger Cessna, had already loaded apparently, with at least two or three of the Jonestown residents who had elected to leave the community with

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Congressman Ryan, among its five passengers. According to the pilot one of the individuals produced a piston [pistol] and began firing within the aircraft at the other passengers. At almost the same time a tractor pulling a cart appeared on the scene. The cart was loaded with several people and when it approached the aircraft the individuals in the cart began firing at the cluster of people who had not yet boarded the second larger aircraft. Several of the people, according to the pilots, were immediately struck by bullets and it [in] their estimation were killed during the first fusillade. This group included Congressman Ryan and members of the NBC camera team. The firing also damaged the engines of the second aircraft and rendered it unflyable. People still on the ground who were not wounded or were wounded and ambulatory ran into the bushes surrounding the airstrip to escape the fire. The three-man crew in the disabled aircraft scrambled aboard the Cessna which was taxiing down the runway. This aircraft managed to take off with both crews plus one wounded passenger who apparently was one of the persons who had elected to leave Georgetown. (She is now in a hospital in Georgetown.)

3. Neither crew had any great familiarity with the individual passengers with the exception of the congressman, the NBC camera team and the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission, Richard Dwyer] and thus could not readily identify casualties. They did report, however, that when they left Port Kaituma the DCM seemed to be ambulatory but perhaps slightly wounded. The congressman and the camera team appeared to be dead.

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4. After the meeting with the Primin the air crews were taken in charge by the commissioner of police for a more intensive defriefing. I have sent an embassy political officer to be present at this session.

5. Units of the Guyana Defense Force and the police are being airlifted during night hours to Matthews Ridge, the closest airstrip capable of taking aircraft after dark. GDF is also positioning tow [two] helicopters at Matthews Ridge in order to be able to shuttle troops into Port Kaituma at first light. There is already a small GDF unit at Port Kaituma numbering perhaps no more than six. As of now there is no communication link with Port Kaituma.

6. The priminister expressed his deep regret over this tragic incident and wished this to be conveyed urgently to USG [US government]. He noted that his government had been most facilitative regarding the Codel’s visit.

7. I told the prime minister that our immediate concerns were as follows: (1) that the GOG [Government of Guyana] make every effort to get into Port Kaituma to furnish aid, assistance and protection to the Americans who were still there, (2) that as soon as possible the bodies of the dead should be brought to Georgetown, and (3) that the perpetrators of this outrage be brought to justice as soon as possible.

8. I left the prime minister’s office at this point and returned to the embassy.

9. We have also learned that there have been three murders and one suicide at the People’s Temple office in Georgetown.

Burke [John Burke, U.S. Ambassador to Guyana]

Originally posted on May 15th, 2018.

Last modified on June 23rd, 2022.
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