Suspect in Calif. shootings says children weren't target

Deterred by security at Jewish institutions, he stumbled on center

August 13, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES -- Accused hate-slayer Buford O. Furrow Jr. told authorities that, while looking for places to kill Jews, he grew discouraged by tight security at three prominent institutions -- the Museum of Tolerance, the Skirball Cultural Center and the University of Judaism -- but pulled off a freeway to get gas and stumbled upon an unguarded target, the lesser known North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

According to a law enforcement source familiar with Furrow's interrogation, the burly white supremacist from Washington state told investigators that he came to Los Angeles with mayhem on his mind, but no intention to shoot small children.

Three 5- and 6-year-olds were wounded in the attack at the Jewish center. But Furrow said his targets were an elderly receptionist and a teen-age counselor who also were hit. "The kids got in the way," Furrow explained.

Furrow also admitted shooting to death 39-year-old postal worker Joseph Santos Ileto, a Filipino-American making his rounds in nearby Chatsworth. Furrow said that he noticed Ileto as he drove by after the center shootings and targeted him as a nonwhite who was also a government employee, according to an affidavit filed by a government agent in federal court.

Furrow was ordered held without bail yesterday on a federal murder charge of killing a federal worker who was doing his job -- a death penalty offense.

Additional details emerged about his activities in recent weeks, and his flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, where he surrendered to the FBI a day after the crime spree that began Tuesday morning at the Jewish center, continued with a carjacking and ended with the postal worker's slaying an hour later.

Furrow paid $800 cash for a cab ride to Las Vegas, according to the taxi driver who drove him there.

Furrow had been in the Los Angeles area for two nights before the crime spree, according to a police source.

After Furrow abandoned his carjacked Toyota Camry in a hotel parking lot in Chatsworth, the police source said, he got a haircut and bought a new shirt, then took a taxi to Hollywood, where he searched unsuccessfully for a prostitute and had seven or eight beers in a bar before flagging down cab driver Hovik Garibyan in a 7-Eleven parking lot at 8 p.m. -- more than two hours before police announced they were seeking Furrow in the shootings.

At first, Garibyan recalled, his passenger asked to be taken to Los Angeles International Airport. Then the passenger changed his mind, saying: "Can you take me to Las Vegas? I don't like to fly in airplanes."

"I was just thinking: `Who is this person, my passenger?' " Garibyan recalled.

Garibyan said Furrow fell asleep and stayed that way for most of their four-hour trip through the Mojave Desert. He did not awaken until Garibyan stopped for gas 70 miles from Las Vegas.

Furrow told Garibyan to drop him off on the strip outside the New York, New York Casino.

"I stopped under the Statue of Liberty," Garibyan said. "We said good luck to each other," and Furrow walked into the night.

Garibyan went into New York, New York, sat at a poker table and lost most of what he had just earned. By 5 a.m. he was down $600 and on his way home.

Garibyan told the colleague who leased him the cab, Boris Krasnov, that he had driven a fare to Las Vegas and back and was going home to sleep.

Krasnov suspected that Garibyan's fare might have been Furrow.

"I start thinking it's not the usual trip, not every day that you go to Las Vegas," said Krasnov. He called Garibyan and told him to watch the next TV news broadcast to see whether the photograph of the fugitive resembled his passenger.

"I just turned on the television and I saw that it was [Furrow]," said Garibyan. "I felt lucky to be alive."

By then Furrow had turned himself in.

He had stayed at the Barbary Coast Hotel in Las Vegas and gambled a little, according to a police source. In the morning, when Furrow turned on the television and saw his face as a wanted man on channel after channel, he decided, "I made my point," the source said.

Furrow still had about $2,000 in cash when he took a cab to the FBI office and turned himself in, saying: "You're looking for me. I killed the kids in Los Angeles."

Furrow, a mechanic with a long history of involvement in the Aryan Nations, a group that believes Jews descend from Satan and should be killed, might have been contemplating an assault on a Jewish institution in Los Angeles for weeks.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said a tour guide identified Furrow from a newspaper photograph as a man who paid a visit to the center's Museum of Tolerance some weeks ago.

The man arrived alone and kept to himself, a docent told Hier. He paid no attention to exhibits as his tour group walked around the museum and instead stared at the ceiling. He left after about 20 minutes, Hier said.

Because the man's behavior was so bizarre, the docent remembered him vividly, Hier said.

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