Midwest shooting spree ends with apparent suicide of suspect
July 5, 1999
SALEM, Illinois (CNN) -- A white supremacist suspected of targeting blacks, Jews and Asians in a deadly Independence Day weekend drive-by shooting rampage from Chicago to Bloomington, Indiana, died after a high-speed chase in Salem, Illinois on Sunday night, police said Monday.
Benjamin Nathaniel Smith was tentatively identified early Monday from his driver's license photograph, police in the Chicago suburb of Skokie said.
Smith had carjacked a van from a gas station in Ina, Illinois, near the southern Illinois town of Salem, forcing a woman and her daughter from the vehicle, after ditching his 1994 light blue Ford Taurus there -- the car used in eight shootings from Friday night to Sunday morning.
Salem police pursued the van. The chase ended when the driver of the van pulled out a gun and shot himself below the chin, FBI sources said. The van then crashed and the driver was pronounced dead later in a hospital.
There were no reported injuries in connection with the carjacking.
Skokie Police Lt. Barry Silverberg said police in Salem "compared his driver's license photo to his face. Fingerprint results are pending, but we are certain this is the person we were looking for. This person is Benjamin Smith."
Police said two guns were found in the van, a .22-caliber handgun and .380 semi-automatic. Shell casings from those caliber weapons had been found at several of the shootings.
Skokie Police Sgt. Michael Ruth, a spokesman for a multi-agency task force coordinating the investigation, said "investigators believe he acted alone in these cases" but are trying to "piece together what circumstances caused all of this to occur."
Decatur shooting added to string of drive-bys
The drive-by shootings started Friday night in Chicago and its suburbs, moving southwest to Springfield, Illinois, and Decatur Saturday afternoon, back east to Urbana, Illinois, Saturday night and then Bloomington, Indiana, Sunday morning.
Two men were killed -- a black former college basketball coach and a Korean post-graduate student -- and nine others wounded, including Orthodox Jews in Skokie, blacks and other Asians.
The dead men were Ricky Byrdsong, black former basketball coach of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and Won-Joon Yoon, a Korean set to begin pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science at Indiana University this fall.
Early Monday, police added the Saturday shooting of a black minister in Decatur, Illinois, to the string of drive-bys tentatively attributed to Smith.
The Decatur minister survived two gunshot wounds. He was treated and released from a hospital.
A multi-state manhunt had been launched after the most recent shooting, outside a Korean church in Bloomington on Sunday.
Bloomington Police Chief Jim Kennedy said Smith had been observed sitting in a light blue Ford Taurus outside the church shortly before Yoon was shot. He fired four times, hitting the victim twice.
A warrant for Smith's arrest was issued in Monroe County, Indiana, of which Bloomington is a part, charging him with murder.
The Taurus had been spotted shortly after that shooting on Indiana state road 46 headed east and later going south on Interstate 65.
Authorities in Indiana and Illinois said Smith's Taurus, which had a broken passenger side window, was believed to have been used in all the shootings.
The car in Decatur initially had been identified as a white 1994 Ford Taurus, but Silverberg said police there obtained more accurate information later on both the car and the driver's description.
The license number is 53J 919 and registered in Bloomington to Smith. But authorities said he may have changed plates at some point Sunday to Illinois tags.
The other shootings all occurred in Illinois and the Chicago-area task force coordinating that investigation had stopped short of naming him as a suspect.
A proponent of white supremacy
Smith, 21, described as a white supremacist, had attended Indiana University in Bloomington where the last shooting occurred and University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana near the site of one of the Saturday shootings, police said.
FBI sources said a preliminary physical description of the driver matches that of Smith, a clean-cut 6-footer weighing 135 pounds with a tattoo on his chest saying "Sabbath Breaker."
The Indiana University Web page listed a Benjamin Nathaniel Smith who was a junior majoring in criminal justice. In addition, Lt. Silverberg in Skokie said Smith also had attended University of Illinois.
Silverberg said he was picked up by police in Wilmette, Illinois, this spring while passing out pamphlets there.
Richard McKaig, the dean of students at Indiana University who met with Smith last year, said Smith wrote articles in the student newspaper "talking about the separation of races."
"There's no question you would call him a supremacist," he said.
Bloomington police said Smith had been arrested last year for his conduct while passing out hate literature there.
Kennedy called Smith a right-wing extremist whom he had confronted when he was distributing anti-minority literature for a group called the World Church of the Creator about a year ago. Kennedy said Smith had been a member of the group.
The head of the World Church of the Creator, Matt Hale, told CNN he thought Smith was non-violent, a "pleasant person who believes in his people, the white people." He said Smith's membership expired last month.
Shell casings in Chicago area
Chicago Police Cmdr. Willian Hayes, heading the Chicago-area task force, said Smith was "just a person of interest because he's the owner of the car. He's not a suspect yet in any of our cases."
Silverberg said Smith's parents live in the Chicago suburb of Northfield, but so far had been "unable or unwilling to offer any pertinent information to police."
Hayes said the only shootings linked by forensic evidence based on shell casings so far were two in the Chicago area Friday night and the one in suburban Skokie., Illinois, where Byrdsong, 43, was gunned down outside his home in front of two of his three children.
The rest of the cases are linked by the car and witness descriptions of the gunman. A small caliber handgun was found in Springfield, Hayes said.
Both Hayes and Silverberg said they considered it irrelevant whether the shootings were hate crimes, since murder was involved in two of them, and as Silverberg put it, "How much more hate can you show than by killing somebody. And he tried to do this in a lot of cases."
Police believe Chicago shootings related; search for blue car
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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