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Cremated remains of mass-suicide victims in Guyana found in US funeral home

Last Updated on Thursday, 7 August 2014, 22:21 by GxMedia

The 1978 mass suicide of members of Jim Jones’ sect left more than 900 people dead of cyanide poisoning. (AFP / AFP/Getty Images)

(LATIMES.COM).-The cremated remains of nine victims of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, a mass suicide in Guyana, were discovered inside a former Delaware funeral home on Wednesday, state officials said.

Members of the Delaware Division of Forensic Science and the Dover Police Department conducted an excavation at the Minus Funeral Home after 38 small containers were discovered inside, according to a police department news release issued on Thursday.

All but five of the sets of the remains, which were cremated between 1970 and the 1990s, were clearly marked, police said. Nine of the containers were linked to victims of the 1978 mass suicide, which left more than 900 people dead of cyanide poisoning.

The Division of Forensic Science took possession of all remains on the site, and is working to identify those remaining, the release said.

Cpl. Mark Hoffman, public information officer for the Dover Police Department, told the Los Angeles Times that the funeral home went out of business in 2012, and the land was purchased by a bank. A bank employee recently discovered 38 sets of urns on the property, sparking the investigation.

Hoffman said many victims of the massacre were flown back into the U.S. by way of Dover Air Force Base, though it was not clear how the remains then made their way to the funeral home.

“The assumption is that they were probably contracted out as unclaimed remains, but there’s no information to validate that yet,” Hoffman said.

The nine urns containing the remains of Jonestown Massacre victims were clearly marked, so police were able to link the urns to the names of victims. Hoffman declined to identify the victims and referred further questions to DFS officials.

Kimberly Chandler, a spokeswoman with the state division of forensic science, said investigators found death certificates with the urns, and were able to cross-reference those names with a list of victims from Jonestown. She declined to release the identifies of the victims.

“For us it’s simply a case of unclaimed remains, and our primary focus right now is to identify family members,” Chandler said.

The incident is not likely to result in a criminal investigation, Hoffman said.

Several graveside markers for war veterans who served in foreign combat ranging from World War I to the Vietnam War were also discovered, the release said.

It was not immediately clear how the remains wound up in Delaware, and police did not release the identities of the victims.

The mass killing was orchestrated by the Rev. Jim Jones, who ordered members of his People’s Temple cult to consume a cyanide-laced drink on Nov. 18, 1978.

Jones’ followers were also responsible for shooting and killing five people, including California Democrat Leo Ryan, who had traveled to Guyana to investigate alleged human rights abuses being perpetrated by the cult.

U.S. Rep Jackie Speier of Northern California was the lone survivor of the mass shooting.

“It’s a sad commentary on a tragic event in which people were maltreated all along the way … even in death,” Speier said.