[Square & Compasses]

Shooting Follow-up

Masonic leader suspends lodge where member died in shooting

By Frank Eltman
Associated Press Writer
March 14, 2004, 11:45 AM EST

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Six days after a man was fatally shot during a ceremony at a Long Island Masonic lodge, the organization's state leader said Sunday a panel of lawyers will investigate social clubs that operate in lodges like the one where the shooting took place.

The 170 members of South Side Lodge 493 in Patchogue _ the site of the shooting _ also have been suspended pending the outcome of the probe, Carl Fitje, state grand master of the Free and Accepted Masons told 750 members and their families at a breakfast in Great Neck on Sunday morning.

"We are deeply anguished and outraged because a fellow Mason has died in an incident that never should have happened," Fitje said, reading from a letter that will be sent to the state's 67,000 members.

William James, 47, of Medford, N.Y., was fatally shot participating in an initiation ceremony into a social club called Fellow Craft in the basement of the Patchogue lodge last Monday night.

Police say Albert Eid, a 76-year-old retiree and longtime member of the club, mistakenly pulled a loaded .32-caliber handgun from his left pants pocket instead of a .22-caliber pistol with blanks that was in his right pocket.

Police have called the shooting "completely accidental," but charged Eid with second-degree manslaughter. He is free on $2,500 bail.

Detectives say James was seated in a chair and a small platform with cans on top was placed near his head. Eid was standing approximately 20 feet away holding a gun. A third member out of James' view held a stick, and when the gun was fired the man with the stick was supposed to knock the cans off the platform to make the inductee think that real bullets were fired.

Eid, who was said by police to be "quite stunned and ... distraught" after the shooting, has not said publicly why he brought a loaded weapon to the ceremony.

Since the shooting, the Masons have taken pains to say that the social club initiation was not sanctioned or part of any official Masonic rite. Part of the confusion is that the social club used the name Fellow Craft, which also is the second of three levels of entry into the Masons organization: apprentice, fellow craft and master Mason.

In his letter, Fitje said, "No Mason can engage in or participate in any ritual that varies from the ritual approved under Grand Lodge law. ... firearms do not, and never have, played any role in any Masonic ritual in the state of New York."

Robert Leonard, a spokesman for the Masons, noted that each of the state's approximately 660 lodges runs independently and is owned locally.

He said the in-house investigation by six attorneys _ all of whom are Masons _ will try to determine the scope of activities of social clubs that make use of Masonic facilities. Leonard conceded that social clubs are prevalent, but could not precisely say how many were operating statewide.

The members of the Patchogue lodge will not be permitted to participate in meetings or any other sanctioned Masonic activities during the probe, which is expected to take 30-60 days.

There was no telephone listing for the Patchogue lodge.

Fitje also announced he has personally contacted James's widow and said a fund would be established on behalf of his family.

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