The Nightmare of November 1978

Tragedy struck the Bay Area twice in nine days in November 1978, first with the Jonestown holocaust and then the slayings of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. On November 18, Jim Jones, the leader of the Peoples Temple, ordered more than 900 of his followers to drink punch laced with cyanide shortly after some of them assassinated U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan and four people traveling with him to investigate abuses at Jonestown in Guyana. Among those wounded in that attack was Tim Reiterman ’65, a reporter for theExaminer. As Reiterman accompanied Ryan and several Jonestown defectors to an airfield, a truckload of People’s Temple members drove up and approached the planes. “We suspected that they were there to prevent those defectors from leaving and telling their stories about what was really going on in Jonestown,” said Reiterman.

“As we were loading passengers on the larger of the two planes, some shots rang out and we had no time to do anything but react. I ran and dove trying to get my head behind one of the plane’s wheels.” A bullet hit Reiterman in his left arm and wrist and shrapnel entered his right shoulder. “People around me were being hit; there were screaming and rolling amidst a lot of confusion. I bounced up as fast as I could and sprinted for the tall grass around the airstrip. I dove in as soon as I was close enough and crawled into the jungle.” There he found a clump of trees where he could gather himself. He wrapped a belt around his arm to stop the bleeding and listened as the shooting subsided. Suddenly he heard several more shots. “I later learned that those were gunmen finishing off a number of the wounded.”

When the gunmen left, he returned to the planes and found among the dead Leo Ryan, Examiner photographer and close friend Greg Robinson, NBC cameraman Bob Brown, reporter Don Harris and one of the defectors. Of those who survived, 10 were wounded, including Ryan’s aide, Jackie Speier, who later became a state senator. Reiterman and most of the other survivors hid in a small rum shop that night along with some of the defectors. “We didn’t know if the gunmen would return, but the defectors told us that this would trigger mass suicides in Jonestown, which, in fact, happened.” Reiterman returned to the Bay Area, and in 1982, he and fellow reporter John Jacobs (now deceased) wrote Raven: The Untold Story of Reverend Jim Jones and His People. Reiterman has kept in contact with survivors and relatives of those who died and has written about the incident from time to time. He serves as a writer for the Los Angeles Times and teaches investigative reporting at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. (His daughter, Amanda is a member of the Class of 1998.)

Nine days later, tragedy struck again. On November 27 former Supervisor Dan White killed Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone ’47. The Mayor’s sons — Chris ’80 and Jonathon ’82 — were students at SI at the time. Matthew Bernstein ’81 was one of Chris’s friends. “I arrived to my fourth period French, and a minute later, Chris followed. He had not been seated more than a minute or two when Leo La Rocca entered the room and whispered in Anny Medina’s ear. He then asked Chris to leave with him. I believe they then went directly to the Dean’s office. About 10 minutes later, Fr. McCurdy announced through the loudspeakers that the Mayor had been fatally shot. I remember going to see Chris that evening at his house. Several of his classmates were also there. That weekend, we had a basketball game at Bishop O’Dowd. I vividly recall several of O’Dowd’s cheerleaders openly rooting for Chris when he entered the game. I also believe they gave him cards and balloons.”

A week later, Fr. McCurdy announced on the loudspeaker that the father of Marty Healy ’80, had been shot by a disgruntled coworker. “It was certainly a sad time for us,” added Bernstein. “I drove home with Chris that evening, and he was amazed that this tragedy could repeat itself so quickly. Whenever Fr. McCurdy made an announcement during the remainder of that year, many of us were quite tense not knowing what tragedy was to be announced. Happily, though, I believe none followed these two tragic events. Yet, it was a very sad week in our school’s and city’s history and one that I will never forget.”

Tim Crudo ’80 eulogized the Mayor in The 2001 that December. “Always in attendance at such social gatherings as the Communion Breakfasts, George Moscone especially loved to watch his son, Chris, play basketball. As a freshman, I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Moscone. I had had many previous notions about what to expect, but I had all images except the right one: the father of a friend. Out of City Hall, he was no different from any other father…. At the last basketball game he was to see, he came up to me and began a conversation that lasted but a brief time. But during that time he managed to seem more concerned with my wellbeing than I thought possible. This encounter, though brief, was the highlight of my week. The mayor of a vast and wonderful city taking time out to talk to me, just a friend of his son’s.”