Newsweeks Past: The Jonestown Massacre

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David Hume Kenneryl/Getty images

America’s deadliest non-natural disaster before 9/11 was covered by Newsweek in a special report on December 4th, two weeks after 918 members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple committed mass suicide. Writers pieced together the story from tape recordings, detailing the pastor’s chilling commands on the page: “‘Alert! Alert! Alert! Everyone to the pavilion!’ The Rev Jim Jones was on the loudspeaker, summoning the members of his People’s Temple to their last communion. Dutifully, they gathered round; some of them, without doubt, knew what was in store. ‘Everyone has to die,’ said Jones. ‘If you love me as much as I love you, we must all die or be destroyed from the outside.’ Mothers grasped their children to their breasts. Jones ordered his medical team to bring out ‘the potion,’ a battered tub of strawberry Flavor Aid, laced with tranquilizers and cyanide. ‘Bring the babies first,’ he commanded.”