Mysteries surround minister's shooting
Jonathan T. Lovitt ; Richard Price
RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Khallid Abdul Muhammad usually shocks people from the
pulpit, but this time the major surprise came after his speech.
Of the many mysteries surrounding the shooting attack Sunday night against the
suspended Nation of Islam minister, none drew more attention than his decision
to abandon his intensive security plan.
Muhammad was gunned down outside an auditorium at the University of
California campus after he surprised authorities by exiting through an unguarded
door, where he mingled with 50 or 60 people.
Police said Monday they were investigating the possibility that a phony note had
been passed to Muhammad on stage, informing him that he had to move the
program outside because his time had expired.
Waiting in the crowd outside was James Edward Bess, of Tacoma, Wash., who
police say began firing from a distance of 10 feet with a 9mm pistol, striking
Muhammad in the leg and injuring five bodyguards.
The note raised the possibility of a conspiracy. Police wouldn't discount that but
said they're operating on the theory Bess acted alone.
Riverside Police Chief Ken Fortier said two other loaded, 9mm guns were found
in a backpack nearby. In an automobile with Washington plates, police also
found a .30-caliber rifle and a telescopic sight.
"Right now, we're intent on tracing (Bess') movements and whether he was
stalking Muhammad," Fortier said.
University spokesman Jack Chappell said authorities were caught off-guard
because Muhammad "was supposed to remain in the gymnasium. . . . There was
no compelling reason to leave."
The speech was vintage hard-line Muhammad, and he drew the usual cheers by
characterizing whites as satanic and Jews as oppressors.
Another Muhammad standard: protesters on hand. One of them, Irv Rubin of the
Jewish Defense League, was ordered out of the auditorium after shouting at
But police discounted any relationship between the protests and the shooting.
Both Muhammad and Bess had suffered punishment by the Nation of Islam
leadership. Muhammad was suspended last year for racist and violent remarks.
Bess was dismissed three years ago.
Police were investigating whether Muhammad had been involved in Bess'
After the shooting, a crowd wrestled Bess to the ground, beating him until police
waded in with batons. There was a second, small uprising later, when several
Muhammad supporters complained an ambulance took too long arriving.
The attack was similar, though less tragic, to the 1965 assassination of Malcolm
X, the one-time Nation of Islam leader shot while speaking to 300 followers in
At the university Monday, Chappell expressed the school's regrets, to "what
occurred as well as the demagoguery that preceded it."
Black students were meeting to discuss the attack and refused comment in
deference to Muhammad's long-standing fight with the media, which he refers to
as the "Jews media."
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the shooting.
What such acts do, he said, is "confer on a person like Muhammad the status of a
martyr, and that would be very unfortunate, because basically his message is one
PHOTOS,b/w,William Wilson Lewis III,Riverside Press Enterprise via AP(2)