Shooting spree motive vague; suspect kills self
July 5, 1999
SALEM, Illinois (CNN) -- A white supremacist driving a hijacked van took his own life as he was being sought in a series of drive-by shootings that targeted blacks, Jews and Asians in a deadly Independence Day weekend rampage in two states, authorities said Monday.
A specific motive for Benjamin Nathaniel Smith's three-day shooting spree was under investigation.
Last year on the Fourth of July, Smith distributed white supremacist fliers in Bloomington, Indiana.
Asked Monday whether the weekend shootings were related to Independence Day, Bloomington Police Capt. William Parker said, "It raises questions in our minds."
Bloomington Police Chief Jim Kennedy said it appeared Smith acted alone in distributing the racist literature.
"We have no information at all of other people involved in the distribution," he told reporters at a news conference on Monday. "If we develop anybody else, we'll certainly be talking to them."
Smith, 21, shot himself as he fled from police Sunday night after abandoning his blue Taurus and carjacking a van in rural Ina, Illinois, a town about 33 miles south of Salem.
He died a short time later at Salem Public Hospital. An autopsy was planned Monday in Centralia, Illinois.
A woman and her daughter were forced from the van at gunpoint.
Marion County Sheriff Gerald Benjamin told CNN Monday that Smith apparently shot himself twice as officers pursued the van in a low-speed chase.
The van then crashed and Smith shot himself a third time when he was struggling with sheriff's deputies, according to Benjamin. He said the final shot appears to have hit Smith in the chest.
"All the shots were fired by him," the sheriff said.
Authorities believe Smith began his drive-by shootings in Chicago on Friday, when a black man was fatally shot and six Orthodox Jews were wounded.
The shooter also fired at Asians and blacks in two Illinois cities on Saturday and fatally shot a Korean man Sunday outside a church in Bloomington, police said.
Two guns found with Smith -- a .22-caliber handgun and a .380 semi-automatic -- were consistent with the shootings, Kennedy said.
Authorities also said .380-caliber shell casings -- the same kind found in some of the Chicago shootings -- were also found at the scene of the Indiana attack.
The FBI said Monday it had not been investigating Smith until the last couple of days. "He was known to the police in Chicago and police in Bloomington (but) the FBI did not have any pending investigation of him," said FBI agent Ken Kaiser.
Mayor condemns access to weapons
Bloomington Mayor John Fernandez said the city had "a great deal of work to do ... to try and begin the healing process. It's the same throughout our country, where we have to bring this kind of hate-driven violence to an end."
"We have so many (hate) groups throughout the country," Fernandez said. "One only needs to surf the Internet to learn about most of them."
The mayor also condemned what he called "incredible access to weapons of mass destruction" in the United States.
"Why a man can have access to a semi-automatic assault weapon ... what is going on?" Fernandez asked. "I'm sure Mr. Smith was not part of a well-regulated militia," he said, referring to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Opponents of gun control say the amendment gives them the right to bear arms. It reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Correspondent Tony Clark contributed to this report, which was written by Jim Morris.
Police believe Chicago shootings related; search for blue car
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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