How Many People Survived The Jonestown Massacre?

"Be patient. Death is, I tell you, I don't care how many screams you hear. I don't care how many anguished cries, death is a million times preferable to spending more days in this life. If you knew what was ahead of you — if you knew what was ahead of you, you'd be glad to be stepping over tonight."

That was the advice Jim Jones offered to his followers at the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project just outside of Georgetown on November 18th, 1978. It's taken from a New York Times transcript of his rambling final speech, in which he instructed residents to quiet their children while they were fed and injected with a cocktail of diazepam, antihistamines, and cyanide. It was intended to be an act of "revolutionary suicide." Time and perspective saw it classified as a massacre.

In total, more than 900 people died that day, representing the single largest deliberate loss of American life in a single instance until the 9/11 attacks 23 years later. Members of the Jonestown community were given the choice to either take their own lives or be killed by the camp guards, having been told that authorities would be "parachuting in" and taking their kids to be raised as fascist pawns. Amazingly, through various turns of events, 33 people made it out alive.

How the survivors escaped Jonestown

According to CNN, the breakdown goes something like this: Of the 33 survivors, 11 managed to escape by fleeing through the jungle. An ambush at the Port Kaituma airstrip, where a handful of Jonestown residents were attempting to escape with visiting U.S. congressman Leo Ryan, ended in five deaths, but fourteen people survived the attack.

Mike Prokes and brothers Mike and Tim Carter and were sent away from the compound by the higher ups with instructions to turn over a large sum of money to the Soviet embassy in Georgetown. The Carter brothers witnessed the deaths of Tim's wife and son, then fled the scene, according to interviews with ABC. A fourth man, Larry Layton, would go on to be the only member prosecuted for the events at Jonestown, spending 18 years in prison.

A further four people survived the mass suicide. One claimed not to be able to hear the announcement and played dead in a ditch, while another hid under a bed until the ordeal was over. The body of Jim Jones was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.