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Frederick WILLIAMS





Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Off-duty firefighter - Arson - Ambush shooting
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: March 8, 2000
Date of arrest: Same day (wounded by police)
Date of birth: 1959
Victims profile: His wife, Stacey Williams, 32; firefighters Javier Lerma and William Blakemore, and sheriff's deputy Rupert Peete, Jr.
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Memphis, Tennessee, USA
Status: Found not guilty by reason of insanity in May 2006 and returned to a secure state mental hospital
photo gallery

An off-duty fireman himself, Frederick killed his wife and set fire to his house, then he opened fire on arriving police and firefighters, killing three.

Was shot and wounded by police.

Frederick Williams was found not guilty by reason of insanity and returned to a secure state mental hospital.



Ambush at burning house leaves 4 dead in Memphis

March 9, 2000

Firefighters responding to a house fire Wednesday were ambushed by an off-duty Memphis firefighter who stepped out of the garage and began shooting, authorities said. Two firefighters and a sheriff's deputy were killed, and a woman was found dead in the garage.

The suspected gunman, Fred Williams, was wounded and was undergoing surgery, Police Director Walter E. Crews said. A bystander also was wounded, but not seriously.


Firefighters, Deputy died in ambush shooting

The Columbian

March 9, 2000

MEMPHIS -- When the firefighters came to the burning home, they believed they were responding to a routine alarm. Instead, authorities said, a fellow firefighter burst out the garage firing a shotgun and screaming "Get away! Get away!"


Suspect's file shows troubled work past

The Commercial Appeal

9 March 2000

The man suspected of killing two firefighters, a deputy and his recent bride Wednesday had been a Memphis firefighter for six years. Frederick Williams had enjoyed his job until recent personal problems developed, his brother, Larry Williams, said Wednesday evening. He would not elaborate. "The Williams family expesses its condolences for all families involved in this tragedy," said Larry Williams.


Call for help erupts in carnage; ambush kills deputy, 2 firemen

Wounded suspect also a firefighter; wife found dead

The Commercial Appeal

9 March 2000

A Memphis firefighter just back from an unspecified leave for "assistance" emerged from a burning home Wednesday to ambush and kill two Fire Department colleagues and a sheriff's deputy, authorities said. Inside the Southeast Memphis home, authorities discovered a fourth body, that of the man's wife of less than a month.


Williams home unstable, ex-husband says

The Commercial Appeal

10 March 2000

She liked picnics in the park, taking the kids to Chuck E Cheese's, and working the sound board during church services. And there was that crazy smile of hers. Those are some of the things Herman Harrison Jr. said he remembers about his former wife, 32-year-old Stacey Williams. The mail carrier was one of four people killed Wednesday by a man police say was her second husband, Frederick Williams, at their Southeast Memphis home.


Friend says Williams took poison recently

The Commercial Appeal

10 March 2000

Four months before he became the sole suspect in a fiery and deadly Hickory Hill ambush, Frederick Williams may have tried to end his own life. He was at his family's South Memphis home around Thanksgiving, when he ingested rat poison, according to his neighbor and longtime friend, 63-year-old Freeman Nelson. "You know, any time someone takes rat poison, they've got to have troubles in their mind," Nelson said Thursday.


Suspect in fiery melee had already risked gun rights

The Commercial Appeal

10 March 2000

As a defendant in a domestic violence case, Frederick Williams may have been about to lose his right to own firearms when he allegedly went on a shooting rampage Wednesday. A 1996 amendment to the federal Gun Control Act prohibits misdemeanor offenders in domestic violence cases from possessing guns and ammunition. People under restraining orders for domestic violence also are forbidden firearms.

"It doesn't matter if they've had (the gun) a day or 20 years. That ends their firearm-ownership."


Firefighter charged in 4 killings, confesses, police say

The Commercial Appeal

March 11, 2000

Memphis firefighter Frederick Williams was charged Friday with murdering his wife, two Fire Department colleagues and a sheriff's deputy. In addition to the four first-degree murder charges, the 41-year-old Williams faces one count of attempted murder and one count of aggravated arson. Investigators said Williams made a confession during an interview from his hospital bed but did not answer the question everyone wants to know: Why?


'I knew I was shot' - Victim recalls rampage that left 4 dead

On her way to the bank, Debra Gatewood saw the smoke dissipating into the warm air. Maybe the gray brick house was on fire. Maybe someone was just grilling on a sunny March afternoon.

She slowed to U-turn speed and swung northward on Germantown Road South to take another peek. That's when she knew that somehow she'd have to call the Fire Department to alert them that the house at 4217 Germantown Road S., at Bay Hollow Cove, was afire.

A couple in a blue car slowed too, and Gatewood asked if they had a cellular phone, pointing now to the smoke across the street. Sure, they said, they'd be glad to call.

It was just after noon on Wednesday, March 8. Within minutes, the house would be engulfed in flames. An occupant inside, Stacey Williams, was already dead from a gunshot wound. A sheriff's deputy, Rupert Peete, would be shot to death in his marked cruiser. Two firefighters, William Blakemore and Javier Lerma, would be ambushed and killed immediately upon the arrival of their fire engine.

And Gatewood would be clutching her bloody, broken jaw and taking cover behind a brick wall from a man carrying a shotgun.

There was no way to know that at first, of course. Gatewood was simply a motorist who wanted to make sure that someone's house didn't burn down. Other cars were stopping too, as she approached the house and saw the front window panes crackling and shattering from the heat. She warned people away:

"No! Don't get near the house, because it's liable to explode! And you don't want to be there. Just back up! I've already called the Fire Department," she recalled Monday during an interview with The Commercial Appeal, her first public account of the shooting.

"About that time, I remember hearing these guys that were in the cove, right there where the carport was, and they yelled, `There's a guy in the carport! And he said he just wants to be left alone! Just leave him alone!' "

The man who wanted to be left alone was Frederick Williams, Stacey's husband, a firefighter who had called in sick two days earlier.

Gatewood didn't see him at first. He was hiding in the shadows of the carport, waiting for the fire trucks to arrive. Now she sensed something far more ominous than a fire.

"I said if there's a guy in the carport, we need to get away, just back off away from him. So we started across the street. We had already gotten completely across the street when the police car drove by," she said.

The police car was a green and white Shelby County sheriff's cruiser driven by Peete. He had been on his way to a theft call.

"And he stopped, and I knocked on his window. And he rolled his window down. And I said, `There's a man in the carport, and he says he just wants to be left alone.' I said, `Be careful.' "

Gatewood turned to hustle away from the burning house and the mysterious man inside its garage. She headed toward the blue car that belonged to the couple with the cell phone.

Then she was crashing into the asphalt.

The man with the cell phone - she never got his name - yelled that the deputy had been shot. Gatewood felt her jaw and knew that she'd been shot too. She remembers catching a glimpse of the man with the long gun moving into shooting position.

"I'm holding my mouth. I knew I was shot. I knew that all my teeth were out on this side. I didn't know the severity of it. But I knew I could walk and move around and that kind of stuff. So the guy that had the cell phone, he turned around and called 911 and he told them that the police officer had just been shot, that we needed an ambulance, that I'd been shot."

Gatewood and the couple in the blue car dashed across the front yard of 4222 Germantown Road S., a neat brick home with a carefully landscaped yard. They took cover in the small entryway, beating on the front door. The man with the cell phone was relaying everything he saw to the 911 operator.

By now, the occupant of the house had locked the door while the gunfire was erupting across the street, so Gatewood and the couple were pinned down. The man on the cell phone, peeking around the corner of the brick wall, told her that the firefighters had been shot. Then she remembers Williams started shooting from across the street - toward her.

"He was coming toward us. And we were scared to death. We thought he was coming."

Meantime, the normal daily traffic on this busy two-lane suburban street continued to flow past, some slowing to look at the smoke and the flames. People were screaming at the drivers to get out of the way. A Memphis police car roared up. Within moments, Williams was down, his body jerking on the unkempt lawn of the burning home. He'd been felled by gunshots from law-enforcement officers.

Gatewood ran toward a parked truck and asked someone to place a call for her, so she could tell her son she'd been shot.

Gatewood, a 46-year-old Home Depot employee, is still at home recuperating, a mile from the shooting scene.

Williams has been recuperating too, in the prison ward of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, charged with four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of aggravated arson.

Gatewood's jaw will be wired shut for six weeks, and she'll require plastic surgery to minimize the damage to her face.

She's matter of fact about the events of March 8. She knows that she was inches from death. She's appreciative of the abundance of prayers made in her behalf and the scores of phone calls from friends.

She says her doctors aren't sure what's causing the hot sweats across her back and the clammy feeling that creeps along her arms.

"I just really want to go on, with whatever. And get it past, behind me. There's not a whole lot more that I remember than I did when I told the police officer the very first day.

"I feel sorry for the people that died in it. I feel sorry for the woman across the street that got scared and wouldn't let us in. I don't have anything against the guy who did this. Maybe I should, but I don't. The man had to have had problems somehow. That's just the way I am. I don't hold anything against that situation.

"I just want to go back, go on to work and try to forget everything. And go on with my day."


Former Memphis Firefighter Found "Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity" for Killing Four


A former Memphis firefighter accused of murdering two firefighters, a Sheriff’s Deputy and his wife in March of 2000 is found "not guilty by reason of insanity" Monday afternoon in a Memphis court. Fred Williams has said in the past to a judge that he is the "son of God" and that a "New World Order" has implanted a microchip in his body to spy on him.

Fred Williams has been in a state mental hospital for three years, after being diagnosed as depressed, psychotic and delusional. Stacey Williams [his wife], firefighters Javier Lerma and William Blakemore and Deputy Rupert Peete, Jr. were killed in March 2000 at Fred Williams’ home. Investigators say he set the fire then started shooting people as they arrived to put out the fire.



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