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Postman's ethnicity made him a target

The L.A. shootings suspect says he killed the Filipino-American mail carrier because he was not white.

In chilling detail, Buford O. Furrow Jr., the suspect in a shooting on Tuesday at a Los Angeles Jewish Community Center, has explained that he shot a Filipino-American letter carrier the same day because he was a non-white "target of opportunity."

He told investigators that he was driving down a quiet residential street in a Toyota he had hijacked when he saw the letter carrier, 39-year-old Joseph Santos Ileto, in his uniform, stuffing letters into a mailbox next to his mail truck.

Furrow said he thought Ileto was Hispanic or Asian, so he stopped his car and asked Ileto if he would mail a letter. Ileto agreed. Furrow then pulled a 9mm semiautomatic pistol from his back pocket and shot Ileto twice.

"He stated that the mail carrier bent over and attempted to run away," said a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday. "He then shot the mail carrier a few times in the back until he saw the mail carrier fall to the ground."

Ileto was shot at point-blank range nine times.

The complaint added that five of the nine shots that hit Ileto were considered fatal by the coroner. Both the federal and the state charges filed Thursday for that murder could bring the death penalty.

Federal and state prosecutors on Thursday charged Furrow, a white supremacist, with capital murder and other felony counts.

Furrow, 37, made an initial appearance before a federal magistrate Thursday and was denied bail, but the relaxed-looking man in prison blues, handcuffs and manacles stood in stunning contrast to the cold-blooded, racist murderer described by both the U.S. attorney and the Los Angeles district attorney.

Furrow, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, with close-cropped hair, a mustache and wire-rimmed, aviator-style glasses sliding down his nose, shuffled into the courtroom so quietly at 11 a.m. that few of the several dozen reporters present seemed to notice him initially.

Looking around at the crowd, Furrow smiled and said to his public defender, "They all like me."

He tersely answered a few procedural questions posed by the federal magistrate and spoke up only once during the seven-minute hearing, to correct her when she read his name, adding "Junior" after she had said Buford Furrow.

In attempting to fill in details of Furrow's violent rampage on Tuesday, the authorities only deepened the mystery of how Furrow, a well-known member of white supremacist groups and a convicted felon, could have amassed the huge arsenal of weapons he had and how he financed his murderous expedition to Los Angeles from his home in Washington state.

He was believed to be unemployed with a history of losing jobs, but he used at least $4,000 to buy a van last Saturday. He then spent $800 on a taxi ride to Las Vegas. Law enforcement officials said they would not comment on whetherthey have evidence that he received financial or other kinds of assistance from anyone.

The shootings began about 10:49 a.m. Tuesday, when Furrow, according to charges, entered the North Valley Jewish Community Center in the Granada Hills section of Los Angeles and fired at least 70 shots with an Uzi submachine gun, hitting five people: Isabelle Shalometh, 68, a receptionist at the center; counselor Mindy Finkelstein, 16; and three young boys, Benjamin Kadish, Joshua Stepakoff and James Zidell. The most seriously wounded, 5-year-old Benjamin, shot twice, was in critical but stable condition Thursday.

Burford then fled in his van, parked it and then carjacked the Toyota, police said.

"There is evidence that the murder was racially motivated," said Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. attorney for Los Angeles.

Another puzzling element was added Thursday when the taxi company whose driver transported Furrow to Las Vegas after the shootings said that Furrow had hailed the taxi near the heart of Hollywood, some 15 miles from where he had abandoned the stolen Toyota. Somehow he managed to cover that distance despite a massive police dragnet near the scene of the crimes.

Alexander Konopov of Independent Taxi Co. said that a driver, Hovik Garibyan, had picked up Furrow near Sunset Boulevard and Cherokee Street. Furrow initially asked to be taken to the airport, Konopov said, then said he was afraid of flying and asked instead to be taken to Las Vegas. A price of $800 was negotiated. Furrow paid with $100 and $50 bills and then slept most of the four-hour drive, before being dropped off at the New York New York Casino. Police, who had earlier said Furrow had switched cabs at the Nevada state line, would not comment on what they know of how he got to Hollywood.

In addition to raising serious concerns about a broader conspiracy, the shootings intensified thedebate over gun control. Furrow had such a large arsenal _ including handguns, an assault rifle, hand grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition _ that police had said earlier that they felt lucky more people had not been hurt.

President Clinton commented on the shootings on Thursday, calling them "another compelling argument for the passage of hate crimes legislation and the common-sense gun legislation." Law enforcement officials have not yet said how they believe Furrow obtained the weapons or announced the results of any tracing they may have done of the origins of the guns.

The federal complaint unsealed Thursday listed two charges, the premeditated murder of a federal employee in the performance of his duties and the illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Furrow had been convicted of assault in Washington state.

Mayorkas said Furrow could face other federal charges later. His next hearing on the federal charges is scheduled for Aug. 24.

A news conference Thursday morning was held jointly by Mayorkas and the district attorney, Gil Garcetti, who separately filed a seven-count complaint against Furrow, including the hate-motivated murder of Ileto, the attempted murder of the five people at the Jewish community center, and carjacking.

The state murder charge could also bring the death penalty.

_ Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.