Masonic Lodge Is Suspended After Shooting
By PATRICK HEALY
March 15, 2004
A week after a man was shot dead inside a Masonic lodge on Long Island, leaders of the state's Masonic organization made the rare move yesterday of suspending the lodge while a panel of lawyers investigates the culture and ritual that led to the shooting.
"We at the Grand Lodge were deeply outraged and anguished over this incident," said Carl Fitje, the grand master of the Grand Lodge of New York, which oversees the state's Masonic groups. "This just came out of left field."
William James, a new arrival to the lodge, South Side 493 Masons of Patchogue, was killed Monday as he was being initiated into a social club connected to the Masons but not officially part of the organization. A 76-year-old member of the social club, the Fellow Craft Club, was supposed to fire a gun loaded with blanks, but reached into the wrong pocket, drew a licensed, loaded gun and shot Mr. James, 47, in the face.
Though Masonic initiations are often darkly theatrical, Mr. Fitje and other Masonic experts have said that pulling a gun on someone has never been part of any sanctioned ritual.
The Grand Lodge sets strict prescriptions for all Masonic rituals and ceremonies, and "they're not allowed to deviate," Mr. Fitje said.
He said a panel of Masonic lawyers would examine the history of the Fellow Craft Club at the Patchogue lodge, how long it has existed, how many Masons were members and the types of rituals they performed.
The investigation will most likely take three to four months, Mr. Fitje said. The panel will report its findings, and the Grand Lodge will decide whether to reinstate the lodge, expel some or all of its members, or bring Masonic disciplinary charges.
In Mr. Fitje's two years leading New York's Masons, he said yesterday, he has suspended one other group for breaking administrative rules.
"It's the first time anything like this has ever happened," he said.
The Mason who shot Mr. James, Albert Eid, pleaded not guilty last week to second-degree manslaughter charges in Suffolk County District Court.