Local NAACP: Race motivated Lockheed shooter
By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
July 24, 2003
The president of the local NAACP said Wednesday that race appeared to be the overriding factor that motivated a heavily-armed Lockheed Martin employee to open fire on co-workers on July 8.
The shooting spree left seven people dead including the shooter, Doug Williams, who turned a 12-gauge shotgun on himself and eight wounded.
In a press conference held at Meridian Community College, Walter Patton, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, read a prepared statement to local media but refused to answer questions afterward.
Prior to the press conference Patton confirmed that the committee is a standing committee of the local NAACP branch. Asked who serves on the committee, Patton said: "I can't answer that right now."
Before reading his statement, Patton told reporters he would not take any questions afterward. He was asked questions anyway: "How come you won't entertain any questions?" and "When do you expect to wrap up the investigation?"
Patton's answer was, "No questions."
Statements take sheriff by surprise
Speculation that race was Williams' motivating factor emerged quickly after interviews with shaken Lockheed Martin employees, but Patton's press conference came as a surprise to Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie, who is leading the investigation. Sollie said Wednesday he had talked with Patton at length on Friday.
Patton's wife has worked at Lockheed Martin for 21 years.
Sollie said his department is continuing to interview Lockheed Martin employees as well as other persons who knew Williams and others who were killed at the plant.
Sollie said it is still too early in the course of the investigation to prove a motive. He also said that an FBI examination of Williams' computer hard drive has yet to show any revelations into the shootings.
Sollie, Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, and Dolphus Weary, executive director of Mission Mississippi are scheduled to appear at a forum that will begin at 11:45 p.m. today at Montana's Barbecue and Seafood.
Titled "Healing our Community after the Tragedy at Lockheed Martin," the forum for pastors, ministers, lay leaders and Christian businessmen and businesswomen was organized by Mission Meridian last week.
Mayor John Robert Smith said having talked to employees and family members of shooting victims, he feels racism may have been one of a number of problems Williams had, including problems with authority and his mental condition.
Smith said it is unfair to expect investigators to come up with one factor that triggered Williams' actions.
Patton, an equipment specialist who works at Meridian Community College, did not want the location of Wednesday's press conference to be publicized. On July 17 Patton organized a private meeting for friends and family of people killed or wounded in the Lockheed Martin shootings, which also was held at MCC. Twenty black people attended. Patton would not allow the press to cover the meeting, which he said was held to allow Lockheed Martin employees to "express themselves."
Patton's preference for secrecy has emerged just six months after saying he wanted to provide better communication to bring the community together as a whole. Patton made the comments shortly after he was elected to the president's post of the local NAACP in November.
After the Lockheed Martin shootings Patton repeatedly called for a time of healing and discouraged people from speculating on what led to Williams' shooting rampage.
In a July 13 story, Patton said several well-known lawyers, including a representative of Johnny Cochran, contacted him about the possibility of lawsuits against the company and others they feel share responsibility for the shootings, which some employees said were racially motivated immediately after the incident.