Seven elderly survivors of the Jonestown Peoples Temple arrive in New York today, the first group of the Rev. Jim None's followers to return to the United States.
FBI and Secret Service agents boarded the Pan Am plane immediately after its arrival at Kennedy airport at 6:35 p.m. to interview the seven survivors, who range in age from 61 to 79.
An FBI spokesman said the interviewers were th FBI's first opportunity to talk to these survivors as part of their investigations of the murder of Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D-Calif) by Peoples Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana.
As they prepared to fly back to the United States today, many of the old people seemed dazed and uncertain about what had happened over the past two weeks. Many also seemed to have no idea where they would go or what they would do now. Collectively they were a far cry from the self-confident elite group of young men and women who ran the temple operation with Jones.
Some of today's group suffer from serious old-age ailments. They walk slowly, and one 76-year-old woman had to be carried from her hotel to face the 11-hour journey.
Only two were actually at Jonestown when the cult's mass suicide took place 11 days ago. One, 74-year-old Hyacinth Trash, slept unnoticed in her bed through the entire horror and then fled into the forest. Grover Davis, 79, hid in a ditch at the campsite and remainde undiscovered long enough to also slip way.
Davis said he simply did not want to die at Jonestown like the others. But, he said, "I didn't hear nobody else say they weren't willing." The other five were taken from the temple headquarters house at Georgetown, where they were staying when everything happened.
About 70 temple members remain in Georgetown waiting word from the Guyanese government that they are not needed in the investigation. A few of them may be charged with crimes. Others are said to be needed as material witnesses.
"He healed my wife," Davis said of Jones. "He t the headquarters refused for a time to allow the survivor's release.
U.S. officials here said that the Guyanese apparently forgot to tell the troops of what was to happen. So with their rifles poised, soldiers would not pick up the survivors.
Only the frenzied but successful efforts of the embassy to get word to the local government and the willingness of pan Am to hold its commercial jets flighter for an hour and a half finally allowed the group to leave, amidst a throng of reporters.
The headquarters, about two miles from the center of Georgetown, is said to house many of the most feared Templers leaders, as well as some of the elderly and ill people who were there for treatment when the tragedy accured.
The 45 inside the house have been kept incommunicado since then. A few are thought to be witnesses to the murder there of four Temple members - a mother and three children-on the evening 909 of their cohorts committed suicide 120 miles away in Jonestown.
None of those questioned today said they knew how the murders occured. As they left, they also gave simple reasons why they had originally gone to Jonestown and they seemed representative of many of the elderly people who constituted a large percent age of Jonestown's population.
"He healded my wife," Davis said of Jones. "He told her God would take over and heal her and He did. Her heart used to be hurting her so bad, I had to sit up all" Davis' wife died of a stroke in the United States before he went to Jonestown.
"I thought he was a very wonderful person because he provided for senior citizens and children," said Madeline Brooks, 73. "He helped the senior citizens and took people out of the ghetto," said Raymond Godschalk, 62.