As officials here and in Guyana cope with a legacy of problems left by the mass killing at Jonestown, the first eight American survivors are being released by the Guyaneses government to return to the United States.
Only one of the eight, 84-year-old Miguel De Pina, who had fallen ill and was treated in a hospital there, has left Guyana. He was flown to San Francisco earlier this week by his grandson, Michael Woodward, and a California newspaper reporter who took Woodward to Guyana to search for his grandfather.
The other sever - also elderly survivors of Jonestown ranging in age from 61 to 10 - are awaiting for the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, to arrange for their transportation home. A U.S. State Department spokesman said last night that it is not yet certain whether they will be flown by military plane to the U.S. Air Force base at Charleston, S.C., as was reported earlier.
The State Department has guaranteed the survivors transportation back to the United States on military or commercial flights, the spokesman said. But there is uncertainty as to when more survivors will be allowed to leave Guyana and even as to whether they all want to return here.
U.S. sources in Washington and Georgetwon said yesterday that some survivors, apparently those who were among the more trusted aides of Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones, have indicated to Guyana authorities that they want to go to Cuba instead.
The approximately 80 survivors include 46 Peoples Temple members still being held under house arrest inside the cult's Georgetown headquarters, where they were during the events of a week ago that left 918 persons dead at three locations: the cult's Jonestown commune, the nearby Port Kaituma airstrip and the Georgetwon headquarters.
The others, who are living under guard in a Georgetown hotel had left Jonestown with Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D-calif.) and survived the airstrip ambush in which Ryan and four others were shot to death, or escaped the subsequent forced mass suicide of the remaining 909 Jonestwon residents.
Among the eight elderly Jonestown residents who survived, 70-year-old Hyacinth Thrush said she had slept through the "white night" roundup of residents by the commune's armed guards and discovered the massed dead, including the body of her aged sister, when she awoke later Saturday evening. Grover Davis, 79, said he hid from the roundup in a drainage ditch. The others apparently were overlooked in and around the large barracks houses where Jones kept the elderly.
The elderly survivors were the first to be allowed to leave Guyana because they were the easiest for Guyanese authorities to clear of possible involvement in any illegal activities in connection with the murders and mass suicide or the illegal possession of firearms in Jonestown.
Guyanese police are continuing to question the rest of the survivors. Some have been accused by the others as being among Jones' most trusted aides and sharp-shooting members of the Jonestown security force.
"Their status is being reviewed, and some will be allowed to go," said Skip Roberts, the assistant police commissioner in Guyana. "Some will be held for judicial proceedings."
Two of the survivors already have been arrested and charged with murder. Larry Layton, 32, from San Francisco who was taken into custody at the Port Kaituma airstrip, has been charged in the murders of Ryan, three newsmen and a Jonestown defector by four to six gunmen who ambushed Rayan's fact-finding party after it left Jonestown. Charles Beikman, 43, from Indianapolis, has been charged with murdering Sharon Amos Harris and her three children in the Georgetown headquarters on the night of the mass suicides.
Three others - Tim Carter, 28, and his brother Michael, 20, and Michael Prokes, 32, - were questioned a second time this week about their story of how they escaped from Jonestwon with guns and a large sum of money.
They have told police and reporters they were given the guns and a large suitcase by Maria Katsaris, Jones' mistress and the commune treasurer, and told to take them to the Soviet Embassy in Georgetown. They said they found the suitcase too heavy to drag into the surrounding forest and stopped to open it, finding in it cash, jewelry, gold and a letter to the Soviet Embassy. They pocketed some of the cash and ran off, they said.
A U.S. official said yesterday that Guyanese authorities in Jonestown have recovered $500,000 in U.S. currency, $250,000 in Guyana currency and stacks of uncashed U.S. Social Security checks.The Guyanese still have possession of the cash, the official said but have turned over a carton of Social Security checks to the embassy.
Guyanese authorities have set up a police post at the now deserted and partially looted commune and are making a complete inventory. The U.S. Embassy has informed the Guyanese government of its duty to represent the estates of the Jonestown dead and oversee the eventual disposition of property they left behind there.
The Guyanese Cabinet met last night to decide the future of the 3,000 acre Jonestown site amid reports that it would commision the military to maintain Jonestown as a government agricultural station and harvest its beans, tapioca, bananas, pineapples, oranges and other crops.
Many other problems spawned by the Jonestown tragedy also remain unsolved, including:
Disposition of the more than 900 bodies being processed for identification at the U.S. Air Force base in Dover, Del.
The process is moving slowly. About 40 bodies have been positively identified from fingerprints and dental records thus far, including those of Jones and the commune doctor, Lawrence Schacht, 30, who reportedly prepared the vat of poisonous drink that the Jonestown residents were forced to take.
As the bodies are identified, the State Department will notify next of kin, who are expected to make preparations fo their removal from Dover. The U.S. government is absorbing the approximately $9 million it cost to bring the bodies to Dover from Guyana.
A State Department spokesman said yesterday that it had not yet been decided what to do with bodies that remain unidentified or unclaimed by relatives.
"We're going to try to treat them with dignity," the spokesman said.
Dealing with the Jonestown survivors who choose to return to the United States.
The U.S. government will make certain they have transportation back to the United States, but will require each survivor to sign a document promising to repay, if they can, the cost of the transportation and that of their food and housing in Georgetown. Many of the survivors, particularly the elderly, are destitute.
When the survivors reach the United States, they will be interviewed by representatives of the Immigration and Naturalization Service for reentry, the Internal Revenue Service about what happened to money sent to them in Jonestown, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for any assistance that can be offered to the destitute and the FBI, which is investigating the murder of Ryan.
An FBI spokesman said the survivors would be asked a list of questions about Ryan's murder, which is a federal crime because he was a congressman, and about "rumors of a hit squad" of Jones' lieutenants who may have survived and pose a danger to People Temple members, defectors or critics in the United States.