PATCHOGUE, N.Y. — They still greet each other with secret handshakes and use rituals that date to the Middle Ages.
“It has nothing to do with what we’re about,” said Richard Fletcher, executive secretary of the Masonic Information Center, based in Silver Springs, Md.
William James, a father of five, was shot in the face Monday night at the Southside Masonic Lodge during an initiation rite into a Masons social group called Fellow Craft.
Fletcher said the shooting “has to be put into context” and should not be used to disparage the roughly 1.5 million Masons nationwide, who he said participate in many charitable activities.
“It was an accident that happened,” he said. “You can’t blame an entire fraternity that had nothing to do with it. If this were part of some common everyday occurrence, that would be one thing. It isn’t.”
The man accused of shooting James is Albert Eid, a 76-year-old retiree who police say mistakenly pulled a loaded .32-caliber handgun from his left pants pocket instead of a .22-caliber pistol with blanks that was in his right pocket.
Police called the shooting “completely accidental,” but Eid was charged with second-degree manslaughter. He pleaded not guilty, and bail was set at $2,500.
Detectives said that James, 47, of Medford was seated in a chair and a small platform holding several metal cans placed near his head.
Eid stood about 20 feet away holding a gun, and a third person stood out of James’ view holding a stick. When the gun was fired, the man with the stick was supposed to knock the cans off the platform to make the inductee think they had been struck by a real bullet.
Police said the stunt was designed to create “a state of anxiety” for inductees.
“I have been a Freemason for 47 years and I have never, in that entire time, heard of anything so off the wall,” Fletcher said. “That’s what makes this so difficult.”