Suspect in Community Center Shooting Confesses to Postman's Murder

New York Times/August 13, 1999
By James Sterngold

LOS ANGELES -- In chilling detail, Buford O. Furrow Jr., the man held in a shooting on Tuesday at a Jewish community center here, has confessed that he shot a Filipino-American letter carrier because he was a nonwhite "target of opportunity."

Furrow told investigators that he was driving down a quiet residential street in a Toyota he had carjacked when he spotted the letter carrier, 39-year-old Joseph Santos Ileto, in his uniform, stuffing letters in a mailbox next to a mail truck.

Furrow said he thought Ileto was Hispanic or Asian, and he told investigators that he stopped his car and asked Ileto if he would mail a letter. Ileto agreed. Furrow said he then pulled a Glock Model 26 pistol from his back pocket and shot Ileto twice. But that was not the end, he said.

"He stated that the mail carrier bent over and attempted to run away," said a criminal complaint filed on Wednesday but unsealed this morning. "He then shot the mail carrier a few times in the back until he saw the mail carrier fall to the ground face down."

Ileto was shot at close range nine times.

The complaint added that five of the nine shots that hit Ileto were considered fatal by the coroner. Both the Federal and state authorities filed murder charges on Thursday in that killing. Either could bring the death penalty.

At a news conference on Thursday morning the District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, said he separately filed a seven-count complaint against Furrow, 37, including the hate-motivated murder of Ileto, the attempted murder of the five people at the Jewish center and carjacking.

Furrow made an initial appearance before a Federal magistrate on the murder charge and on another felony count, illegal possession of a firearm. He was denied bail.

But the relaxed, heavyset man in prison blues, handcuffs and shackles stood in stunning contrast to the cold-blooded, racist murderer described by the United States Attorney and the Los Angeles District Attorney.

Furrow, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, with close-cropped hair, a mustache and wire-rimmed, aviator-style glasses sliding down his nose, shuffled into the courtroom so quietly at 11 A.M. that few of the several dozen reporters present seemed to notice him initially.

He tersely answered a few procedural questions posed by the Federal magistrate, Carolyn Turchin, and spoke up only once in the seven-minute hearing, to correct her when she read his name, adding "Junior" after she said Buford O. Furrow.

In trying to fill in details of Furrow's rampage here on Tuesday, the authorities only added to the questions about how Furrow, a well-known member of white supremacist groups and a convicted felon, could amass the money he used to pay for his expedition to Los Angeles from his home in Washington State and the huge arsenal of weapons he brought with him. He was believed to be unemployed with a history of losing jobs, but he used at least $4,000 to buy a van last Saturday. He then spent $800 on a taxi ride to Las Vegas, Nev.

Law-enforcement officials would not comment on whether they have evidence that he received financial or other kinds of assistance.

The shootings began about 10:49 A.M. on Tuesday, when he entered the North Valley Jewish Community Center in the Granada Hills section of Los Angeles and squeezed off at least 70 shots with an Uzi submachine gun, hitting five people, including three children at a day camp.

All five are now recovering, although one 5-year-old boy was still listed in critical condition today. He then fled in his van, parked it then carjacked the Toyota, the police said. "There is evidence that the murder was racially motivated," said Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the United States Attorney here.

Another puzzling element was added on Thursday when the taxi company that transported Furrow to Las Vegas after the shootings said that he had hailed the taxi near the heart of Hollywood, about 20 miles from where he had abandoned the Toyota after shooting Ileto. Somehow he covered that distance in spite of a police dragnet in the vicinity of the crimes.

Alexander Konopov of the Independent Taxi Company said a driver, Hovik Garibyan, had picked up Mr. Furrow near Sunset Boulevard. and Cherokee Street between 5 P.M. and 6 P.M. Furrow initially asked to be taken to the airport, then said he was afraid of flying and asked to be taken to Las Vegas, Mr. Konopov said.

A price of $800 was negotiated, Furrow paid with $100 and $50 bills, and then he slept most of the way.

In addition to raising serious concerns about a conspiracy, the shootings also intensified the debate over gun control. Furrow had such a large arsenal, including handguns, an assault rifle, hand grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition, that the police had said earlier they felt lucky more people had not been hurt.

President Clinton commented on the shootings on Thursday, calling them "another compelling argument for the passage of hate crimes legislation and the common-sense gun legislation." Law-enforcement officials have not yet said how they believe Furrow obtained the weapons or the results of any tracing they have done of the origins of the guns.

The Federal complaint unsealed on Thursday listed two charges, the premeditated murder of a Federal employee in the performance of his duties, and the illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Mr. Furrow was convicted of attempted assault in Washington State last year.

Mayorkas said Furrow could face other Federal charges. His next hearing on the Federal charges will be on Aug. 24.

Law-enforcement officials did their best to present a unified front, since there had been a behind-the scenes struggle between the United States Attorney's office and the District Attorney over who would charge and try Furrow first. Those issues remained unresolved on Thursday, but at the news conference Garcetti said they had formed a joint task force to continue the investigation and to determine when and where Furrow would ultimately be tried.

"We intend to continue working together to insure that justice is served," said Garcetti, who added that he expected Furrow to be arraigned on the state charges within a few days.



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