United States congressman (Democrat) from the 11th Congressional District (San Mateo) of California, who served from 1973 to 1978. Born May 5, 1925 in Lincoln, Nebraska; died November 18, 1978 at Port Kaituma, Guyana.
Congressman Ryan was known for actively participating in the investigation of social issues. As a state legislator, Ryan went undercover as a substitute teacher in order to witness firsthand the conditions in black communities. He later admitted himself into Folsom State Prison to "see what being a prisoner is like."
Ryan did not slow down when he went to the House of Representatives. He was notorious among the CIA for walking into CIA Headquarters and grilling operatives about the things they withheld from Congress. As House sponsor of what later became known as the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, Ryan would have been instrumental in seriously restricting CIA covert paramilitary operations overseas, but the amendment was defeated, most likely due to pressure from the CIA.
Congressman Ryan, along with part of an NBC news crew, was shot and killed on November 18, 1978 as he was attempting to leave Jonestown, Guyana with some followers of Jim Jones who wished to leave the settlement and return to the United States. He was the first (and so far, the only) United States congressman to die in the line of duty. His body was returned to the USA and buried with full state honors at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Francisco, California. The NBC cameraman, Bob Brown, was recording during the shootout, and about a minute of that footage survived. It showed a team of five or six gunmen disembark from a cart that was being towed by a tractor; the gunmen, curiously enough, waved off members of the Guyana Defence Force who were on the scene, then proceeded to advance on the delegation and open fire. Ryan, three members of the NBC team (including Bob Brown; most of the footage he captured on tape was at a weird angle, as he collapsed and died while recording), and one Jonestown refugee (Patricia Parks) were killed. The gunmen were never apprehended, but it is widely assumed that they were Peoples Temple members from Jonestown and that they perished later that day along with the rest of Jonestown.
Ryan was, after his death, portrayed by Ned Beatty in the 1980 TV movie about the Jonestown Massacre, "Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones."