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Man Killed During Initiation at Masonic Lodge
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
PATCHOGUE, N.Y. — A man was killed during a Masonic initiation ceremony when another member fired a gun loaded with real bullets instead of the expected blanks and shot him in the face, police said Tuesday.
A 76-year-old man alleged to have fired the shot was charged with manslaughter.
William James, 47, was shot while participating in an induction Monday night at the Southside Masonic Lodge (search), Suffolk County police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Detective Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick said the ritual that went "tragically wrong" involves making a loud noise to frighten the new member.
"The ceremony was designed to create a state of anxiety," he said.
The lieutenant said the Masons sat James in a chair and placed cans on a small platform around his head.
The alleged shooter, Albert Eid, was standing approximately 20 feet away holding a gun, Fitzpatrick said at a news conference. When the gun was fired, a man who had been holding a stick out of sight was supposed to knock the cans off the platform to make the inductee think they had been struck by bullets, he said.
Eid had two guns — one with blanks and one with real bullets — and apparently pulled the wrong one out of his pocket and fired, shooting James in the face, the lieutenant said.
"We believe it was completely accidental," Fitzpatrick said. Eid was quite "stunned and distraught" at James' death, he said.
Eid, of Patchogue, had had a permit since 1951 for the .32-caliber handgun used in the shooting but it was not clear why he took it to the ceremony, police said. He pleaded innocent to a manslaughter charge and bail was set at $2,500. His next court date was scheduled for April 27.
Eid's lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Carl Fitje, grand master of the New York State Freemasons (search), issued a statement Tuesday denying that guns play a role in any officially sanctioned lodge ceremonies.
"We don't use pistols," Steve Mayo, who described himself as a senior deacon of the lodge, told reporters Tuesday. "This is not a Masonic ceremony where we bring pistols."
However, Fitzpatrick said members told police the rite involving a gun goes back at least 70 years.
Mayo said the Monday night ceremony was an initiation into the Fellow Craft (search), which is the second degree within the multilevel Masonic system.
Mayo said James, of Medford, had been a member of the lodge for a few months while Eid had been a member for many years.
"This is very upsetting, very upsetting that one of our brothers was accidentally killed," he said.
James worked for the planning department of the Long Island town of Brookhaven, spokesman Dave Kennedy said.
Man shot during ritual
Gun was supposed to contain blanks...
Man shot to death in club's ritual
BY BILL MASON AND ZACHARY R. DOWDY
March 9, 2004
A Medford man was killed inside the basement of a Masonic temple in Patchogue last night during a ritual when a member of the lodge shot him in the head with a gun that was supposed to contain blanks, Suffolk homicide detectives said.
William James, 47, was pronounced dead at the scene at 15 Oak Street shortly after the 8:40 p.m. shooting, said Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick.
James and another man whom Fitzpatrick would not identify were part of a ritual to be inducted into the fellowcraft club, which one Long Island representative for the group said is a section that performs social activities for the organization in Freemasonry, a system of knowledge that dates back to ancient Egypt.
About six people were present when James was shot. No one was arrested and police would not identify the shooter.
Fitzpatrick said a member pointed a gun at James' head as part of the promotion ritual, and that another member was supposed to strike a garbage can to mimic the explosion of the gun once it was fired. But, Fitzpatrick said, the .38 caliber semi-automatic pistol contained bullets, not blanks.
"Apparently, this ritual has been conducted for a few years at this lodge," Fitzpatrick said, adding that there were two guns present - one carrying real bullets and another carrying blanks, and that the shooter may have used the wrong gun. "He was being inducted into another group within the lodge."
Details of the incident were sketchy last night. But Andrew Boracci, a spokesman for the 18 lodges in Suffolk County, which contain about 6,000 members, said the temple's tylers, or guards, normally screen every person entering the building for any metal objects. And, he said, non-members are not allowed into the ceremonies.
"How the hell a gun got in there I don't know," Boracci said.
Copyright Â© 2004, Newsday, Inc
A Ritual Gone Fatally WrongPuts Light on Masonic Secrecy
By PATRICK HEALY
Published: Wednesday, March 10, 2004
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PATCHOGUE, N.Y., March 9 Â� The initiation rituals at the Masonic lodge here had been bathed in secrecy over the years. The climax of Monday night's ceremony was to be a simple prank. A new member of the Fellow Craft Club, a select group within the lodge, would sit in a chair while an older member stood 20 feet away and fired a handgun loaded with blanks.
That ritual went terribly wrong inside Southside Masonic Lodge No. 493, in a basement littered with rat traps, tin cans, a 9-foot-tall guillotine, and a setup designed to mimic walking a plank.
The shooter, a 76-year-old Mason, Albert Eid, was carrying two guns, a .22-caliber handgun with blanks in his left pocket, and a .32-caliber gun with live rounds in his right pocket.
He reached into his right pants pocket, pulled out the wrong gun and shot William James, a 47-year-old fellow Mason, in the face, killing him, the authorities said.
Mr. Eid, a World War II veteran who had a license to carry his own pistol and often did, pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon to a charge of second-degree manslaughter and was released on $2,500 bail. He was wearing his blue Masonic jacket during his arraignment in Central Islip.
Suffolk County Police called the shooting an accident, the consequence of one man's confusion. The fatality exposes this secret society, centuries old, to a rare degree of public scrutiny.
Late Monday night, police carried evidence and ritual objects out of the Masons' one-story lodge in Patchogue. All day Tuesday, television reporters and curious neighbors examined the club's bricked-over windows and peered into the front door to glimpse a bulletin board announcing the order's recent charity efforts.
Masonic leaders statewide were quick to disavow the ritual and shooting, saying it was not Masonic custom to shoot guns at other members. Ron Steiner, a spokesman for the New York State Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, which oversees all Masonic lodges in the state, said the social club was not officially tied to the Masonic organization.
"This is so far beyond the concept of reality it's mind-boggling," Mr. Steiner said. "I've never heard of anything like this."
Mystery and suspicion are woven into the history of the Freemasons, who trace their roots to the stone workers' guilds that built medieval Gothic cathedrals. The guilds evolved into secret clubs over the years with secret handshakes and rituals, and symbols like an all-seeing eye, pyramid and compass.
Over the years, the Southside Masonic Lodge members developed their own initiation rituals for the social club in the lodge that set them apart from most other Masonic organizations, members said. No members of the lodge could remember pistols being used in the rituals (they are not allowed in inside Masonic clubhouses), but some described initiations that were part prank, part exercise in trust.
One member, Michael Paquette, said that when he was initiated into the group five years ago, two mouse traps were placed before him, and he was told that one worked, and one was broken, he said. Another member tested the broken trap, then told Mr. Paquette to touch the live one. He did, and discovered that it, too, was a dud.
"It was really harmless things," Mr. Paquette said. "It was just for you to be there and realize you were in good hands, and you didn't have to fear anything."
On Monday night, Mr. James and Mr. Eid were among 10 men who set to performing the club's initiation.
Mr. James, the first to be initiated, sat down in a chair, and two tin cans were placed on a shelf by his head. The idea was for Mr. Eid to fire two blank rounds, and a man standing behind Mr. James would knock the cans down with a stick. And then it happened.
"This is a tragedy," said Mr. Eid's lawyer, James O'Rourke. "He is absolutely beyond grief-stricken. This is a mistake, not a criminal act."
The Southside Masons are mostly middle-aged or retired men who come from middle-class backgrounds. The group once included about 500 members, but membership here and at other Masonic lodges has fallen over the years, and the group now has about 150 members, said Peter Berg, a member. There are about 67,000 Masons across New York State, and their numbers rose slightly last year, for the first time in a decade, Mr. Steiner said.
Orders like the Southside Masons seem more concerned today with Christmas parties and raising money for blood drives and children's charities than ritual.
While Mr. James had only joined the Southside Masons in December, Mr. Eid had been a member for more than 30 years, other members said.
"He's always there," Mr. Paquette said of Mr. Eid. "He put most of his free time into the lodge."
Fewer Masons knew Mr. James, but officials with the Town of Brookhaven, where he worked for the Planning Department, described him as a friendly man who seemed deeply devoted to his family. Mr. James's wife, Susan, said she had no idea what was happening at the Masons' lodge the night he was shot.
"This is so very sudden, and I'm just very upset," she said outside the couple's home in Medford. "To me, it was just a social thing."
Faiza Akhtar contributed reporting for this article.