Survivor Jackie Speier Had a Premonition About Jonestown. Then a Real-Life Nightmare Unfolded (Exclusive)

Jackie Speier was shot five times by gunman sent by the Rev. Jim Jones

<p>Janet Fries/Getty</p> Jim Jones in his office in San Francisco, California on July 3, 1976.

Janet Fries/Getty

Jim Jones in his office in San Francisco, California on July 3, 1976.

Jackie Speier had a premonition in the days leading up to an impending fact-finding mission to Jonestown, a remote jungle settlement in Guyana founded by Rev. Jim Jones and his followers in the Peoples Temple church.

Speier's boss, California Congressman Leo Ryan, wanted to investigate reports of abuse in Jonestown, where some of his San Francisco-area constituents were living.

“I didn't think it was safe,” Speier, who was 28 at the time and the congressman’s staffer, tells PEOPLE. “I told Congressman Ryan, ‘I think we should wait.’ We had heard from defectors about how maniacal Jim Jones was.”

She was so concerned that before they left, she put a letter to her parents in a drawer of her desk.

"Mom and Dad, I love you,” the note read. “Should anything happen, be proud, because my life has been full of the love you have given me. I have no regrets. Love Jackie."

At the bottom, she wrote: "$1,000 life insurance policy with the Credit Union. Fireside certificates in the second desk drawer."

<p>Jacquelyn Martin - Pool/Getty</p> Jackie Speier

Jacquelyn Martin - Pool/Getty

Jackie Speier

Related: From Beloved Preacher to Madman and Mass Suicide: the Dark Descent of Jim Jones and Jonestown

Speier along with Ryan, a handful of journalists and concerned family members of Jones' followers flew to Guyana in Nov. 1978. The mass murder-suicide of more than 900 congregants that followed and the deadly ambush that killed Ryan and others and severely injured Speier is the subject of a three-part National Geographic docuseries, Cult Massacre:  One Day in Jonestown, now streaming on Hulu.

Speier and the rest of the delegation were picked up at the landing strip and driven in dump trucks to the 3,800-acre jungle compound on Nov. 17.

The delegation met Jones that same day.

“He was sitting at a table,” recalls Speier, now 74. “He kept saying things like, ‘We just want to be able to live here on our own. Everything is wonderful. All you're hearing are lies,’ and he wore those sunglasses. He looked like he was sick, or he was sweating profusely. He seemed a little manic, and he was not the powerful charismatic leader that attracted 900 people into the jungles of Guyana.”

At one point, Speier says, a reporter, who had been walking around the perimeter of the open-air pavilion handed them two notes.

<p>UPI/Bettmann Archive/Getty</p> Aerial view of buildings at the People's Temple compound in Jonestown, Guyana.

UPI/Bettmann Archive/Getty

Aerial view of buildings at the People's Temple compound in Jonestown, Guyana.

Related: Jonestown Cult Victim's Daughter Was Haunted Until Her Death: 'I Wish that Bullet that Got Mom Had Killed Me'

“And that's when we knew that everything we had been told was true, that people were being held against their will, and there were people that wanted to leave,” she says.

The following morning, after she spoke to two followers about defecting, “the word spread, and more and more people wanted to leave, and Jim Jones got more and more agitated.”

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AP/Shutterstock Leo Ryan
AP/Shutterstock Leo Ryan

A second plane was ordered for those who wanted to escape, and the delegation and defectors headed to the airstrip. The group started boarding the planes when they were ambushed by gunmen sent by Jones.

“I started to turn around and Congressman Ryan had been hit, and he said something, and then he was hit again and fell,” she says. “I just ran under the other side of the plane and hid behind a wheel and played dead.”

The gunman approached and “shot us at point-blank range. Ryan had been shot over 40 times. And then they came and shot me. I was shot five times. The whole right side of my body was blown up.”

Ryan and four others were killed. Nine others, including Speier, were wounded.

After the airstrip shooting, Jones summoned his congregation to the compound’s open-air pavilion, telling them that soldiers would soon be “parachuting” into Jonestown to kill everyone. Many of the group's members drank a poisoned grape-flavored drink prepared by church leaders under Jones' direction.

908 people died, including Jones and 304 minors, including babies, in the mass murder-suicide.

Speier, who spent two months in the hospital, promised herself she would pursue political office if she survived.

She kept her promise. She served six years on the Board of Supervisors in San Mateo County, 18 years in the State Legislature and 15 years in Congress before retiring.

In March, she decided to return to politics and got elected in March to the San Mateo Board of Supervisors again.

Despite the horrors she witnessed and endured, she still has faith in the goodness of people and remains motivated to make a difference: “I can't stop myself,” she says.

Cult Massacre:  One Day in Jonestown is now streaming on Hulu.

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