Ceremonies Mark Anniversary Of Jonestown Massacre

KTVU News, California/November 17, 2008

San Mateo, California - A San Mateo post office was renamed Monday in honor of U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, who served as the 12th Congressional District representative for San Mateo County until he was fatally shot on a trip to Jonestown, Guyana 30 years ago.

Ryan, his legislative aide at the time and current U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo/San Francisco, another staff member, a group of journalists and a group of concerned relatives traveled to the jungle of Guyana as part of a fact-finding mission investigating reports of abuse and wrongdoings at the Jonestown compound.

The Rev. Jim Jones' San Francisco-based Peoples Temple moved to the Jonestown compound in Guyana, South America in the mid-70s to create what Jones called a paradise.

Upon arrival in South America, Ryan met with U.S. Embassy officials, Guyanese government officials and Peoples Temple attorneys before receiving permission from Jones to visit Jonestown in person, according to an FBI report.

Ryan met with and interviewed Jones as part of the Congressional inquiry into the Peoples Temple. The congressman was attacked by a knife-wielding Peoples Temple member as he tried to leave, but the attacker was stopped.

Ryan then left Jonestown with his entourage and a group of Peoples Temple members who had asked to defect from the group and return to the U.S.

Ryan and the others had gathered to board airplanes on Nov. 18, 1978 when Peoples Temple members arrived on the airstrip and opened fire. Ryan was killed along with four others. Speier was shot five times and left for dead but managed to survive her wounds.

Later that day, Jones ordered his followers to drink cyanide-laced punch. More than 900 people died in the mass suicide-murders, with less than 40 survivors.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the mass killings, the U.S. Postal facility at 210 Ellsworth Ave. in San Mateo was named the Leo J. Ryan Post Office Building during a ceremony Monday morning, a spokesman for Speier, said.

The building once housed Ryan's congressional district office, where Speier worked as an aide, Speier spokesman Mike Larsen said.

"It was much more of an event commemorating the things we don't often hear about Leo Ryan," Larsen said. "He was in public office for nearly 20 years before (the shooting) happened."

Speier took office in the 12th Congressional District after a special election was held in April to determine who would fill the 12th Congressional District seat left vacant by the passing of U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, who died Feb. 11 due to complications from esophageal cancer. She was elected to a full congressional term Nov. 4.

Speier made an effort to rename the historic post office building in honor of Ryan, her mentor, and received support from California's other congressional members, Larsen said.

"When she got to congress she thought this was a fitting tribute," Larsen said.

More than 150 people attended Monday's ceremony, during which a high school band played and Speier, state Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, two of Ryan's daughters and the post office district manager spoke.

"Today we pay tribute to this remarkable man, inspirational mentor, loving father and hard-working congressman," Speier said.

Speier's speech acknowledged Ryan's untimely death, but mainly focused on Ryan's accomplishments as a politician.

"He fought for the rights of felons when being 'tough on crime' is what wins elections," Speier said. "He went to Watts to teach inner-city students at a time when his district had very few African-American constituents. ... And, ultimately, he sacrificed that life while rescuing people so powerless and dispossessed that they left America to live in the jungles of South America."

The congresswoman also recalled advice she received from her mentor.

"In April, when I was sworn into Congress to fill the seat that he once held, I recalled three things that Leo Ryan taught me: Question the status quo. Listen to the people you represent. And always stand up for what you believe in --- even if you have to stand alone," she said.

Larsen said Speier is prominently featured in two current documentaries about the Jonestown Massacre. She has also conducted various interviews and written an article to mark the three decades since she lay wounded on an airstrip in South America.

Also in remembrance, an annual event paying tribute to the hundreds of children who died in the mass murder-suicide at the Jonestown compound will be held Tuesday in Oakland.

The 30th Annual Jonestown Healing Memorial Service will begin at 11 a.m. at Evergreen Cemetery, 6450 Camden St., and feature speakers including Dr. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Charles Krause, who was shot on the airstrip 30 years ago; and Yulanda Williams, a Jonestown survivor.

Dr. Jynona Norwood, CEO of the Cherishing the Children/Guyana Tribute Foundation, lost her mother and other family members in the Jonestown Massacre. She will unveil a portion of the Cherishing the Children Jonestown Memorial Wall at Tuesday's event, organizers said.

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