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Police Investigate Tenn. Shooting

March 10, 2000

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ A Memphis firefighter accused of killing his new bride, two firemen and a sheriff’s deputy ``lost his mind″ in the past few months, a lifelong friend said.

``A year ago he wouldn’t harm nobody,″ Freeman Nelson, the godfather of Frederick Williams, told the Fox television affiliate here. ``Something happened to him. I don’t know what it is, but he just lost his mind.″

Hundreds of firefighters and police officers gathered in a Thursday night tribute to the victims.

``My father did not deserve to die, and that’s the bottom line,″ said William Blakemore Jr., son of one of the slain firefighters. ``I want to know what happened.″

Officials were still trying to piece together Williams’ last troubled days more than 24 hours after he allegedly killed his wife of three weeks, then ambushed the policeman and firefighters as they answered calls about a house on fire.

Authorities were trying to determine whether Williams set the fire to lure firefighters to the home, or to cover up his wife’s death. It was unclear whether Williams made the 911 call to report the fire, Memphis Police Director Walter Crews said.

Williams, 41, had returned to work Monday from an extended leave said to have been related to emotional problems. Authorities declined to say exactly why the leave was granted.

Slain were Williams’ wife, Stacey, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service whose body was found in the brick home; Fire Lt. Javier Lerma, 41, whose firefighter father died battling a blaze in 1977; Fire Pvt. William Blakemore, 48, who was working for a sick colleague, possibly even Williams himself; and Sheriff’s Deputy Rupert Peete, 45, who was shot in his patrol car.

The tragedy hit the city hard. Flags were at half-staff, bouquets of flowers were placed on fire hall steps and firefighters and law officers wore black bands across their badges.

``It’s just so shocking,″ said Pam McFarlin, who took food to firefighters at Fire Station No. 55 on Thursday and brought flowers to the home where the men were shot. ``We all just feel so bad.″

Williams, a six-year veteran of the Fire Department, was wounded by police during the incident and remains under guard at a Memphis hospital were he was listed in critical condition.

He was expected to be charged today.

Williams did not work at the same station as the men who were killed, but officials say they probably knew each other. Firefighters often cover shifts of sick comrades at other stations, said Fire Chief Jeff Pickett.

Crews said the Williamses had married on Valentine’s Day and Williams moved into the house this week. He faced a court hearing next week on a domestic violence charge from October involving Mrs. Williams, then his fiancee.

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