Suspect in Midwest shootings kills himself
July 5, 1999
SALEM, Illinois (CNN) -- The man being sought for questioning in the Midwest drive-by shootings shot and killed himself after a high-speed chase on Sunday night with Salem, Illinois, police, the FBI says.
The FBI says the man is Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a former member of a white supremacist church whose car had been linked to a string of drive-by shootings targeted at blacks, Jews and Asians.
FBI sources tell CNN that police in the southern Illinois town took off after a van that had been carjacked. The driver of the van pulled out a gun and shot himself. The van crashed and the driver was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
A positive identification of the man will not be made until later on Monday. FBI sources also tell CNN that a blue Ford Taurus registered to Smith was discovered in the vicinity of the high speed chase.
Two people have died and eight others have been wounded since Friday in seven separate attacks in Chicago, downstate Illinois and Indiana.
Chicago police have described Smith, 21, as "a person of interest" wanted for questioning, and a warrant for his arrest has been issued in Bloomington, Indiana, where a Korean man was shot to death outside a church service Sunday morning.
Smith, a former member of the Peoria, Illinois-based World Church of the Creator, is described as a white male, 6 feet tall, weighing 130 pounds, with a tattoo on his chest reading "Sabbath Breaker."
The latest attack happened Sunday morning shortly after 11 a.m. CT (noon ET) when a white man driving a light blue Taurus fired four shots toward a crowd of worshippers outside a Korean church in Bloomington.
Won-Joon Yoon, a graduate student at Indiana University, was shot twice and died.
A witness to the shooting followed the car to the nearby town of Nashville, Indiana, and got the license plate number, said Bloomington Police Chief Jim Kennedy.
The car registration for the Taurus listed Smith as a Bloomington resident, Hayes said. Kennedy said he was familiar with Smith.
"He was involved in the distribution of anti-minority and anti-Semitic literature in Bloomington last year, and he was a student at Indiana University last year," Kennedy said.
The leader of the World Church of the Creator, Matt Hale, told CNN that Smith joined the church in June 1998 and left in May. He said there was no indication that Smith was inclined to violence.
"He was a thoughtful, dedicated person. (He) believed essentially in our creed, our religion. I never had any kind of information or inkling that he would do anything illegal or violent," Hale said.
Hale's church unapologetically espouses white supremacist views. Hale himself has been involved in a well-publicized tug-of-war with Illinois officials who have refused to admit him to the practice of law because of his views.
Asked if he feared that his church's teachings might push someone toward violence, Hale said, "No more than the Pope in Rome has thought about people bombing abortion clinics."
The series of shootings began Friday with three attacks in the Chicago area, which Hayes said have been linked together by forensic evidence at the crime scenes:
On Saturday, there were three attacks in downstate Illinois:
Another shooting not officially linked to the spree occurred in Decatur, Illinois -- between Springfield and Urbana -- at about 3 p.m. Saturday. A black minister was shot twice and treated and released from a hospital. However, the car in that case was described by witnesses as a white Ford Taurus, not a light blue one.
At a press conference with her pastor and three children Sunday night, Byrdsong's widow, Sherialyn, said "the violent act which took my husband's life is yet another clarion call to our nation."
"It is time to wake up, America," she said. "This is not a gun problem. It is a heart problem. And only God and reading his word can change hearts."
Chicago Bureau Chief Jeff Flock contributed to this report, which was written by Richard Shumate.
Police believe Chicago shootings related; search for blue car
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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