Furrow Had Asked For Help, Fearing What He Might Do

Posted: August 12, 1999

Last year, Buford O. Furrow Jr., known as Neal to friends and family, told a sheriff's deputy in Seattle that "Sometimes I feel like I could just lose it and kill people."

Furrow, 37, is the suspected gunman who walked into a Jewish community center in suburban Los Angeles on Tuesday morning and wounded five people, including three boys attending day camp.

He gave himself up yesterday to FBI agents in Las Vegas. Authorities in Los Angeles said they would charge him with the Granada Hills shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Center and with the slaying of a postal worker a short time later.

The emerging portrait of Furrow has been drawn quickly and is not complete. But already the colors include racism and, perhaps, mental illness.

And they include shades of a young man, the only child of a military family, who loved restoring an old Corvette in his father's garage in the Nisqually Valley, a rural area about eight miles north of Olympia, Wash.

According to court records, Furrow was arrested in October after he tried to commit himself into a psychiatric hospital near Seattle and then threatened the hospital staff with a knife.

He told them he had been feeling suicidal and thinking about shooting people at a nearby shopping mall.

Furrow told investigators in that case that he was a white separatist, that he had cut himself repeatedly with a knife, that he had thought about killing his ex-wife "and some of her friends, then maybe I would drive to Canada and rob a bank."

"I wanted the police to shoot me," Furrow said, according to a transcript of his interview. At the time, deputies reported finding : a 9mm handgun, ammunition and four knives inside Furrow's car.

Furrow pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to eight months in jail. He was released in May after serving 165 days in King County Jail on condition that he avoid alcohol and take prescribed medications as directed.

Tim Rogge, the hospital's former medical director, doesn't know what psychiatric problems Furrow may have had, but he speculated that he came in because he was "looking for some safe place where he could get some kind of help."

Furrow had no criminal history before then. But he does have a racist history.

Furrow's name is in the database of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization in Montgomery, Ala., that monitors extremists and radical groups.

Groups such as Aryan Nations, which openly espouses white supremacy and anti-Semitism.

"He was a member of the Aryan Nations in 1995, a first lieutenant in their security force," said Mark Potok, editor of Intelligence Report, the Center's quarterly publication. "We have a picture of him in an Aryan Nations uniform, a Nazi-like uniform."

Furrow lived for a time in the northeast corner of Washington state, not far from Aryan Nations' northern Idaho compound at Hayden Lake. A photograph of him, taken at the compound, shows a heavyset man with a mustache and thinning hair.

ABC News last night showed videotape of Furrow and several other Aryan Nations members in uniform, snapping their arms forward in a Nazi-style salute.

Potok said that there were other first lieutenants at the time and that Furrow was not listed as a "major leader." Nor, he added, was there any indication that he was still a member.

Furrow also married into a racist family.

In the mid-1990s, at the Aryan Nations' Hayden Lake compound, he "married" Debra Mathews, widow of Robert Mathews, a racist leader and founder of the neo-Nazi group the Order. Robert Mathews was killed by FBI agents in a 1984 shoot-out on Whidbey Island, Wash.

Mathews is a martyr among many in the world of white supremacy, and his widow was held in high esteem. The Rev. Richard Butler, leader of the Aryan Nations, officiated at the wedding ceremony.

The couple did not apply for a marriage license. "They did not believe in the laws of the land," said a former neighbor of Furrow's, Meda VanDyke.

A police officer who knew the couple said Mathews and Furrow separated more than a year ago.

A neighbor of Mathews' said Furrow had sought unsuccessfully to reconcile with her during the July 4 weekend.

Furrow's father is a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, and "Neal grew up traveling from base to base," said Bernice Merrill, who lives just in front of Buford and Monnie Furrow's house on the Old Pacific Highway near Olympia.

Yesterday, camera crews walked up and down that highway.

"My husband, Clinton, talked to them, and all I can say is that they are shocked and devastated. They are the kind of people you'd love to have as your neighbors. They're courteous, refined. His mother is retired from the federal civil service."

Merrill said she'd lost track of Neal after he went off to college. One news report said he had attended an engineering school and had worked for a time as an engineer for an aerospace parts manufacturer.

He also worked in a tractor shop in rural Washington.

Some acquaintances remembered Furrow from earlier years as having been a lonely, bespectacled, overweight boy teased by his classmates. After high school, an injury kept him from completing Army boot camp.

Merrill said news reports that he was in the Air Force were incorrect. "I'm almost certain," she added.

She said she never heard him utter a racist word.

But other neighbors did.

"I knew his beliefs were way out of line," VanDyke said. "They were good neighbors, but, well, I got blue eyes, so I guess that helps."

Furrow lived in several locations in Washington, including with his parents in a two-story wooden house near Olympia. He moved back in with them when he got out of jail in May.

In the van that police believe Furrow used Tuesday, found not far from the community center, were freeze-dried foods, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and a book by Richard K. Hoskins, a writer and leader of the radical right. Hoskins is the founder of something called the Phineas Priesthood, a violent credo of vengeance that is less an organization than a call to arms to eliminate Jews and anyone who is not white.

The priesthood is named for the biblical Phineas, who killed a prince of Israel for marrying a woman from another tribe. Hoskins has written that in return for this deed, Phineas received the "covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God."

The book in Furrow's van was War Cycles, Peace Cycles, a Hoskins treatise on banking and usury that includes criticism of Jews.

To Bernice Merrill, the Furrows' neighbor, the news about the shootings and yesterday's arrest is all so unbelievable.

"He seemed a quiet and unassuming young man," she said. "You say that until something like this happens and then you wonder. He seemed like an ordinary man."

* This article includes information from Inquirer wire services.

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