FBI joins hunt for Chicago shooter

Former football coach is dead, 6 Orthodox Jews hurt by bullets from car

July 04, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- The FBI joined in the search yesterday for a gunman who, apparently targeting minorities, swept across three suburbs on Chicago's northern fringe Friday, killing black former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, wounding six Orthodox Jews, and firing at two Asian-Americans in a car.

Police say a white male between the ages of 25 and 30, driving a blue, four-door sedan, fired on at least 10 people at six different locations within a 10-mile radius over a period of several hours.

Witnesses reported that the shots in all three incidents came from a white man in a light-blue car.

"We have shell casings from three locations," said Pat Camden, Chicago police spokesman. Preliminary tests on the casings, all apparently from the same .22-caliber pistol, coupled with eyewitness accounts, indicate a single gunman, he said.

Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard called the shootings racially motivated, but police officials stopped short of calling the shootings a hate crime.

"We're not saying it's not a hate crime," Camden said. "What we are saying is at this particular moment in the investigation, the elements for a hate crime are not there."

Police said they had made no arrest yesterday. They were preparing a composite drawing of the suspect based on the eyewitness accounts.

The 42-year-old Byrdsong was the only person killed. He was shot in the back with a .22-caliber pistol as he jogged with his children near his home in suburban Skokie. He was fired on at least seven times, police said, and died early yesterday at an Evanston hospital after surgery. The children were not injured.

Shortly before shooting Byrdsong, the gunman circled through the nearby neighborhood of West Rogers Park, which has a large population of Orthodox Jews, police said.

He fired on at least seven Orthodox Jews walking home from Sabbath services. Six members of an Orthodox congregation were hit, three in one location and three others in three separate locations, all within blocks of one another, according to police. A bullet passed through the clothing of a seventh member of the congregation, but he was not injured.

Residents of the community were reluctant to talk about the shooting yesterday because it was the Sabbath. But Howard Carroll, a former state senator who lives in Rogers Park, said the Orthodox Jewish community felt particularly violated by the act of violence.

"They are so vulnerable on the Sabbath because they are walking down a normal residential street without anything to protect them," he said. "The whole community feels violated. They feel doubly violated because this happened on the Sabbath."

None of the wounds to the Rogers Park victims is considered life threatening, although a man and a 15-year-old boy were hospitalized in serious condition yesterday. Two other victims were listed in fair condition while two others were treated and released.

Police worked yesterday behind cordons of yellow crime tape in the two neighborhoods, an unusual sight in the upscale and solidly middle-class north Chicago residential areas where random violence does not usually strike.

Police said several witnesses throughout the Rogers Park and Skokie neighborhoods recalled seeing a lone white male cruising the streets in a blue car.

Shortly after Byrdsong was shot, two Asian-Americans riding in a car on a major thoroughfare in nearby Northbrook said a man in a blue car pulled along side them and fired into their vehicle. Neither was hit.

Byrdsong had lived in Skokie, adjacent to Evanston where Northwestern is located, for about five years. Yesterday, as news of his killing spread, a memorial of flowers began to rise beside the sidewalk where he was shot.

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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