Congressman Leo Ryan was gunned down during the Jonestown…tragedy on November 18, 1978. Amidst the horror of 909 suicides- 190 under the age of 12- it is easy to forget key details in a tragedy of this magnitude.
Leo Ryan was an outspoken critic of cults… in California, especially prevalent in his district in and around San Francisco. He held hearings to expose of the influence of Scientology in California and pushed for tougher age-of-consent laws to prevent the recruitment of minors. Ryan publicly denounced the teachings of Sun Myung Moon and was often critical of Jim Jones. When a group of concerned relatives approached Ryan about Jones’ activities in Guyana, the Congressman wasted little time setting up a fact finding mission- one he would lead personally.
Cult members shot Ryan 26 times… and killed five members of his party- nine were wounded (including his aide, current Congresswoman Jackie Speier.) Ryan was attempting to evacuate a group of cult members held against their will by Jones and his “Red Guard.” These thugs opened fire as Ryan’s party was boarding the planes. The murder of a US Congressman was the catalyst for Jones to put his “revolutionary suicide” plan into motion.