AP Journalist Who Survived Jonestown Mass Killings Reflects on 30th Anniversary

By Strupp, Joe | Editor & Publisher, November 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

AP Journalist Who Survived Jonestown Mass Killings Reflects on 30th Anniversary


Strupp, Joe, Editor & Publisher


Since he was wounded outside Jonestown, Guyana, 30 years ago during an attack by members of the Peoples Temple, Tim Reiterman has written numerous anniversary stories about the incident and mass suicide that followed.

But, this year, things seem different. Now a news editor for Associated Press, Reiterman, 61, says looking back on the deadly incident that occurred during his days as a San Francisco Examiner reporter is not the same.

"Every time I write an anniversary piece, it seems like it gets harder rather than easier," Reiterman said by phone from San Francisco. "I know it is painful for the people I approach to relive. These survivors have become saturated."

Reiterman says he has written such stories on the 10th, 20th and 25th anniversaries of the Nov. 18, 1978 tragedy that ended with 900 dead at the hands of leader Jim Jones. The link to the Bay Area is key as that is where the People's Temple began and Jones built political power.

"This one was different in the sense that most of the people I talked to, more than half, were people I had not spoken to for other pieces," says Reiterman. "There has been a kind of healing process. A lot of the survivors have started to come together."

He also notes: "Now there is a whole new generation who has never heard of the story."

That latest anniversary piece will be distributed by AP this Sunday. The 2,500-word account delves into Reiterman's own story of being among the reporters who traveled with Congressman Leo Ryan to investigate complaints from worried family members of those who had joined Jones' cult in the jungles of Guyana.

On Nov. 18, 1978, as Reiterman, Ryan and several other journalists and officials boarded a plane to return to the U.S., several members of the temple ambushed them, unloaded gunfire, and killed Ryan, along with several journalists, including Reiterman's colleague, Examiner photographer Greg Robinson.

Hours later, back at the People's Temple jungle camp, Jones directed members to drink cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid, eventually leading to the deaths of hundreds.

Reiterman, wounded in the attack, focuses more on the impact to others in his piece. But he says he still has remnants of the bullets that hit him in the wrist and forearm: "I still have some pieces in there, and others have worked their way out. …

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