[Square & Compasses]

L.I. man shot dead in Masonic initiation accident

By TOM BUCHTA, ED ROBINSON and ERIC LENKOWITZ

A Masonic initiation ritual turned deadly last night at a Long Island temple when a man was shot in the head with a gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks, cops said.

William James, 47, was killed as he underwent the rite for the Fellow Craft Club, a division of the Southside Masonic Temple in Patchogue, said Suffolk Detective Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick.

The unidentified shooter was taken into custody, but cops deemed it an accident and said the weapon was registered.

The shooting occurred at 8:40 p.m. in the basement of the Oak Street lodge, as members carried out a ritual that has been going on for many years, Fitzpatrick said.

James, the first of two men trying to earn membership last night, was standing in the middle of the room facing the ritual leader. Another member directly behind him was supporting a stack of cans.

The shooter was supposed to hold out a gun loaded with blanks and squeeze off one round. Then the man with the cans would knock down the pile to scare the prospective member.

Instead, the shooter pulled out the wrong weapon a loaded .32-caliber handgun and fired a round into James head, Fitzpatrick said. The lights were on in the basement, and James was not wearing a blindfold.

James, who lived in nearby Medford with his wife and two sons, was a loving father and husband, said his heartbroken stepson, Eric O'Reilly.

"He wasnt my real father but he raised me, said the 25-year-old. He was like a father to me."

O'Reilly said the community-minded James worked for the Brookhaven town planning board.

Initiation rites of the ancient Masonics have traditionally been kept secret.

A Web site claiming to provide accurate details of Masonic rites said they include a loud noise either by gunshot or other method to signify the lord thundering down his wrath upon the children of Israel for their disobedience unto him.


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