Mysteries surround minister's shooting

  Jonathan T. Lovitt ; Richard Price


  USA Today


  Page 04A

  (Copyright 1994)


  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

  of hate."

  PHOTOS,b/w,William Wilson Lewis III,Riverside Press Enterprise via AP(2)