On the morning of November 19, 1978, many opened their Sunday papers to a headline that told of the possible assassination of a California congressman in a remote jungle in South America. Little was relayed about the killing but the sketch of Peoples Temple and its founder Jim Jones would become the standard outline for the American media’s portrayal of the organization. Terms like “cult,” “jail,” and “punishments” were prominent descriptions of Peoples Temple in the New York Times that morning.
Over the course of that day, the Guyanese military entered the communal village of Jonestown to find hundreds of dead Americans around the pavilion at the center of the community. The initial reports that made it into American newspapers based on Guyanese estimates suggested that about 300 members were dead, a number that would climb to 400 and then to over 900 as recovery teams began to work through the process of removal and identification.