"She was really cool," the night clerk recalled. "She was really composed like she hadn't just seen someone shot. At first, I didn't believe her."
The hotel clerk, Lee Pense, 21, had been on duty at the Marriott Inn here in the early morning hours Thursday when civil rights leader Vernon Jordan was hit in the back by a sniper's bullet in the parking lot outside.
His companion that night, Martha C. Coleman, 36, walked into the hotel lobby and, according to Pense, announced in matter-of-fact tones:
"There's a man lying in the front parking lot. He's been shot."
Pense called the police emergency number to summon help. It was 2:08 a.m. Coleman, he said, made a phone call of her own from a pay phone, then returned to the hotel desk to ask for some change and a telephone book.
"I just threw a bunch of dimes and a phone book on the counter," he said today. "I was surprised.I thought she'd be at least crying or hysterical. I think I would have been a little freaked out if it had been me."
Coleman gave an initial statement to Fort Wayne police the day of the shooting but has since gone into seclusion, unavailable for further questioning by police or the FBI.
Justice Department officials said today that they may be forced to call her before a federal grand jury unless her lawyers produce her soon for less formal questioning.
"She's got to be interviewed," FBI special agent in charge Wayne Davis told reporters at a briefing in the lobby of Parkview Memorial Hospital, where Jordan was taken after the shooting. "What transpired during the evening is pretty much what we have to get into."
Official accounts remain sketchy. According to police, Coleman and Jordan, the 44-year-old president of the National Urban League, met for the first time Wednesday night at the annual dinner of the Fort Wayne Urban League in the Marriott ballroom. A member of the local league's board, Coleman served on the dinner committee.
After the dinner, Jordan, who is black, and Coleman, who is white, went to the hotel's cocktail lounge where their presence together reportedly stirred some racial remarks from one hotel guest, a man from Chicago who has since been questioned and released. Police chief Leon Wolfe said they were seen at the lounge around 12:30 a.m. by one of his officers who had attended the dinner.
Wolfe said Coleman told his department in her intitial statement that she and Jordn left the hotel around 1 a.m. to drive to her home across town on the south side of Fort Wayne.
"She said they had coffee at her home," the chief said today. "Just the two of them."
Fort Wayne Mayor Winfield Moses Jr. had said earlier that Coleman and Jordan had been with friends at the house, but the mayor said today he had been mistaken.
The chief estimated that they spent only 15 to 20 minutes at the house before leaving for the hotel again in Coleman's red Grand Prix. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to drive each way between her address and the Mariott and they arrived back in the parking lot around 2 a.m.
On the way, around 1:45 a.m., three young white males in a dark-colored Chevrolet, stopped beside them at a traffic light, made some remarks that Coleman took to be racial slurs of some sort, and drove on ahead in the direction of the hotel.
Coleman parked the car about 50 feet from Jordan's first-floor room, which opens onto the lot. He was shot as he got out of the vehicle and was walking around the back of it.
Jordan was hit in the back by a bullet from a .30-06-caliber rifle and fell to the ground, bleeding profusely. Investigators found three separate matted areas in the tall grass of a slope formed by an exit ramp of adjoining Interstate 69 about 60 to 100 yards away. An empty .30-06 shell casing was found in one of the matted spots
A large fragment of a .30-06 bullet was found in the parking area.
Police said Coleman heard a thudding noise, got out of the car and found Jordan on the ground. Then she went to the lobby.
"She walked in," Pense said. "She came right to the counter. She didn't mention Jordan's name."
Craig Watson, 20, a night auditor at the hotel, was also on duty, working in a room behind the desk. He rushed out to see if he could help Jordan.
"He was lying there," Watson said. "He said, 'Please, come help me, I've been shot.' I just held his arm. I told him, 'Everything's all right. The cops will be here soon.'"
Coleman, meanwhile, was on the phone. According to Wolfe, at least one of her calls was placed to get a lawyer. He said today it was his understanding that she contacted one from the lobby, though he wasn't sure how quickly.
Watson said her calls seemed to have been completed when he came back in, relieved by a hotel security officer, around 2:20 a.m., and saw her sitting on a couch in the hotel lobby.
"She was pretty quiet," he said. "She wasn't really hyper or anything like that. She was just controlled."
As he remembered it, police officers came into the hotel around 2:30 a.m. and started talking to her. Coleman remained in the lobby for hours, mostly sitting alone, hotel personnel recalled. No friends arrived to talk to her. Eventually, shortly after 6 a.m., police took her to the hospital where Jordan had been taken for emergency surgery.
Wolfe said officers want to question her again, but have been held off by her lawyers, who have so far agreed only to make her available at some unspecified future date. The chief said Coleman refused to tell them the name of her current boyfriend and police still are not sure who that is.
Federal authorities indicated they do not intend to wait past Tuesday. The FBI has not talked to her at all, and despite interviews of more than 100 individuals, the investigation so far has shed no light on the mysterious shooting.
"We know what happened," Davis said. "We do not know why or who."
Assistant U.S. Attorney David H. Miller said he hoped to hear from Coleman's principal lawyer, Charles Leonard, by Monday or Tuesday.
"I told him that because of the urgency of the situation, we just couldn't wait forever," Miller said today. "We are exploring all the options, including the possibilty of a grand jury."
In another development in the bizarre case, federal authorities eliminated the name of John T. Douglas, 40, of Grabill, as a potential suspect. Ballistics tests in Washington showed the .30-06 rifle he was found toting on a motorcycle Thursday morning had not fired the bullet found in the parking lot.
Davis said ballistics reports were not complete, but officials are assuming that the empty shell casing and the large bullet fragment and smaller fragments taken from Jordan's body came from the same .30-06 rifle.
FBI officials at first regarded the tamped-down areas as least a potential sign that a conspiracy was involved. But Davis today suggested that they could have just as easily been made by one person who moved around several times "to get a better view."
Davis made this observation in voicing a new-found belief, based on ballistics tests and the fact that only one shell casing was found, that only a single shot was fired at Jordan after all. Investigators had first believed at least two and perhaps three shots had been fired.
The FBI agent and local authorities took exception to the thought that the investigation is moving backward, although it clearly has settled down into the tedious effort of interviewing every possible witness, looking for a clue that has yet to surface.
"I think it'll be solved," David predicted. "We're leaving no stone unturned."
"Of course, it's not dead in the water," Wolfe declared of the investigation. But he believes that there is still "no evidence to show that more than one person" took part in the shooting.
The only black on the Fort Wayne City Council, John Nuckols, counseled patience.
"You're just not going to catch anybody overnight," he said. "Look at how long it took them to catch the murderer of Dr. [Martin Luther] King." h
Some black youths here, however, were not so patient. About 30 of them, calling themselves, Black Youth in Action, turned up at the hospital tonight to picket in the circular driveway, branishing signs complaining that Coleman has yet to be thoroughly questioned.
"They're talking but they're not doing anything," demonstrative Rhonda Hollins said of officials conducting the investigation. "If that was President Carter or Mayor Moses [who had been shot], they would have found out who did it right away."
Another youth carried a sign reading "Bring in Martha Coleman Now!"
Nuckols also announced today that an ad hoc committee has been set up here to seek nationwide contributions for a reward fund for information that might solve the shooting. The plan was announced at the hospital where Jordan appears to be making a slow recovery. Hospital officials said he spent a "very good night" and was in "still serious but stable" condition.
Another member of the ad hoc committee, Fort Wayne Urban League president Robert Williams, dismissed suggestions that better security should have been provided for Jordan's visit.
"Vernon did not come to Fort Wayne to be shot," Williams told reporters. "There was no consideration given to the security of Vernon [when hotel reservations were made]. There were no threats against his life."
FBI agent Davis said that a nationwide check, still in progress, has so far turned up no threats against Jordan anywhere. He also said the Fbi has "no evidence" of any national "hit list" of civil rights leaders, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Chicago has suggested.