A 51-year-old unemployed railroad engineer, Duane Middleton, was identified by the FBI yesterday as a suspect in the May 29 shooting of black civil rights leader Vernon Jordan Jr.
A spokesman in the FBI's field office in Indianapolis confirmed an NBC News report that the bureau has questioned Middleton twice about the shooting.
Middleton, a member of a small religious sect in southwestern Missouri, has denied that he shot the 44-year-old president of the National Urban League, who is recovering in a New York hospital.
Middleton has not been charged.
"Middleton is one of several suspects we have in the shooting," the FBI spokesman said.
On its network newscast Monday night and on the "Today" show yesterday morning, NBC identified Middleton as a member of an extremist organization called the Church of Our Christian Heritage. The network said it formerly called itself The National Emancipation of the White Seed.
The network said the church is located on a dirt road in rural southwestern Missouri, where it has a "minister and a few dozen members, many of whom say they have moved [there] to prepare for what will be a war with blacks and Jews."
Though still a member of the sect, Middleton lives on a farm 25 miles north of Fort Wayne, Ind., where Jordan was shot. In an interview with NBC, Middleton said he was not surprised that he was a suspect in the shooting.
"I have racist beliefs," Middleton said. "Anybody who would have racist beliefs, I would imagine anybody in that category would be suspect."
Middleton was asked if he shot Jordan. He replied: "No, no, I didn't shoot Jordan." Were you near the scene? "No," Middleton said. Did you watch him at all that evening? "No, no, I was at home all evening."
The FBI denied on NBC report that it had received word a month before the Jordan shooting that the sect "was planning to assassinate a number of black leaders."
"It is not true that we received any such reports," the FBI spokesman said. "Middleton is a suspect in this case. The group is not a suspect."