Honoring Representative Leo J. Ryan
Today is the anniversary of one of the saddest days in congressional history: the assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan, the only sitting Member of Congress ever assassinated.
Congressman Ryan’s delegation, including current Representative Jackie Speier, who was then a member of Ryan’s staff, visited the People’s Temple Agricultural Community in Jonestown, Guyana, in response to concerns from constituents with relatives living in the community. Prior to the trip, Ryan wrote a letter to Clement Zablocki, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asking for permission to travel to Guyana as a representative of the committee to investigate the situation first hand.
After arriving at the People’s Temple the previous afternoon, Ryan spent the morning of November 18 speaking with members of the community. Following an attempted knife attack on Ryan at the compound, the party, which now included several residents who wanted to leave the People’s Temple, headed to the airstrip at nearby Port Kaituma for the flight back to Guyana’s capital. At the airstrip, Ryan and his party were preparing to board airplanes when a trailer of armed People’s Temple members drove onto the airfield and opened fire. Ryan and four others were murdered. Nine people, including Speier, were injured.
Ryan’s trip to Jonestown was emblematic of his crusading spirit. From his earliest days of public service he used his position to explore the needs and concerns of the less fortunate by conducting first hand investigations of complex issues such as the conditions in Folsom Prison and African American unrest in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Today we honor the life and service of Congressman Leo J. Ryan.
Letter from Congressman Leo J. Ryan, 10/4/1978, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives