Don Harris (journalist)
|Born||Roy Darwin Humphrey
September 8, 1936
Vidalia, Georgia, United States
|Died||November 18, 1978
Port Kaituma, Guyana
Cause of death
Don Harris (September 8, 1936 – November 18, 1978) was an NBC News correspondent who was killed after departing Jonestown, an agricultural commune owned by the Peoples Temple in Guyana. Harris and four others were killed by gunfire by Temple members at a nearby airstrip in Port Kaituma, Guyana. Their murders preceded the death of 909 Temple members in Jonestown and four Temple members in Georgetown, Guyana.
Early life & career
Harris, whose real name was Roy Darwin Humphrey, was born near Vidalia, Georgia, in the United States. In 1957, Harris worked first for WVOP, a radio station located near the place of his birth. He then began delivering television weather reports at a station in North Carolina. From 1964 to 1968, Harris worked at WTVT in Tampa, Florida as a staff announcer. From 1968 to 1969 he worked at WTOP in Washington, DC. In December 1969, he began working as a reporter and news anchor at WFAA-TV in Dallas, TX. From 1970 to 1972 Harris concurrently co-hosted a live morning TV newsmagazine called "News 8 etc..." Harris quit WFAA in 1973 following a dispute with management.
In 1973, He began work for NBC-owned KNBC-TV in Los Angeles. In 1975, NBC promoted Harris to the network news staff, where he covered the fall of Saigon and reported from the trenches in Vietnam. American soldiers referred to Harris as "Mr. Lucky" because Harris managed to dodge bullets and avoid land mines.
Harris won four Emmys and the a DuPont/Columbia Award. In the spring of 1978, before traveling to Jonestown, Harris broadcast an investigative piece on international terrorism that ran on NBC Nightly News.
Death in Guyana
On November 14, 1978, Harris accompanied California congressman Leo Ryan, NBC cameraman Bob Brown, NBC producer Bob Flick, NBC sound engineer Steve Sung and several other journalists to Georgetown, Guyana. The group was investigating rumors of torture, kidnapping and other offenses by the Peoples Temple in an agricultural commune located 150 miles from Georgetown that the Temple called Jonestown. Harris' son, Jeffrey Humphrey, said that Harris' family was not particularly worried about Harris' safety at the time because of the danger surrounding the war stories Harris had previously covered. Some of Harris' colleagues at NBC, however, had tried to talk him out of travelling to Guyana.
On November 17, Ryan, Harris and the other journalists flew to Jonestown. The Peoples Temple's lawyers, Mark Lane and Charles Garry, initially refused to allow Ryan's party access to Jonestown. After Temple leader Jim Jones allowed the party to enter Jonestown, that night, Harris and the Ryan delegation attended a reception in a pavilion in the settlement.
At that reception, unbeknownst to Jones, Temple member Vernon Gosney passed a note to Don Harris (mistaking him for Ryan), which read "Dear Congressman, Vernon Gosney and Monica Bagby [another Temple member]. Please help us get out of Jonestown." Harris then passed the note to Ryan. After the reception, Harris and other media members were informed that the Temple could not provide lodging for them in Jonestown, so that they had to travel to Port Kaituma for the night.
On November 18, when Harris and other journalists arrived back in Jonestown, Jim Jones' wife Marceline gave them a tour of the settlement. That afternoon, two families requested to leave with the Ryan delegation. Harris and other reporters were permitted to interview Jones. Jones told Harris and other reporters that, like others who left the Temple, the defectors would "lie" and destroy Jonestown.
That afternoon, Harris and the rest of the delegation traveled by Temple dump truck to the nearby Port Kaituma airstrip to depart for Georgetown. While attempting to board a twin-engine Otter airplane, a group of Temple members drove a red tractor pulling a trailer toward the airplane on which Harris was departing. "There might be violence," Harris half-jokingly said, and asked Bob Brown to take pictures. Members from the tractor and trailer opened fire on the entourage.
Bob Brown began filming the armed Peoples Temple members as they approached, and continued filming them as they opened fire on his unarmed party. As Brown filmed the shooters, they murdered him. Harris died in the attack, along with Ryan, Brown, San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson and defecting Temple member Patricia Parks. The murder of Congressman Ryan was the first and only murder of a Congressman in the line of duty in the history of the United States.
Later that same day, 909 inhabitants of Jonestown, 276 of them children, died of apparent cyanide poisoning, mostly in and around a pavilion. This resulted in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Harris was survived by a wife, Shirley; two daughters, Claire and Lauren; and a son, Jeffrey who, following in his father's footsteps, is now a reporter in Spokane, WA for KXLY-TV. The family lived in Woodland Hills, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.
- Mike Shannon Profile: News 8 etc., Mike Shannon's Tribute to DFW Radio and TV
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, p. 481
- KXLY News, Slain reporter's legacy kept alive by son, November 18, 1978
- NBC News Special Report on YouTube, 19 November 1978
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, pp. 484–5
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, p. 491
- Hall 1987, pp. 271–2
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, pp. 498–9
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, p. 505
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, p. 512
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, p. 515
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, p. 524
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, p. 527
- Reiterman & Jacobs 1982, p. 529
- Brazil, Jeff (December 16, 1999), "Jonestown's Horror Fades but Mystery Remain", Los Angeles Times
- Who Died?, Alternative Considerations of Jonestown, San Diego State University
- "1978: Mass suicide leaves 900 dead", bbcnews.com (BBC), November 18, 2005
- Rapaport, Richard (November 16, 2003), "Jonestown and City Hall slayings eerily linked in time and memory", San Francisco Chronicle
- "Escape from Jonestown." CNN. Broadcast: November 13, 2008
- Hall, John R. (1987), Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, ISBN 0-88738-124-3
- Reiterman, Tim; Jacobs, John (1982), Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People, Dutton, ISBN 0-525-24136-1