How Ben Smith Got His Guns for Shooting Spree

The tale begins with Donald Fiessinger of Pekin, Illinois. Over a two-year period 1997-1999 Fiessinger purchased 65 inexpensive handguns – often referred to as “Saturday Night Specials” – from a single gun store, the Old Prairie Trading Post in Pekin. He then resold the guns through classified ads he took out in local newspapers, selling them at up to twice the store price.


On June 23, 1999, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a member of a white supremacist hate group, attempted to purchase two 9mm handguns and a shotgun from a federally licensed firearms dealer in Peoria Heights, Illinois. The purchase was denied by the dealer after a background check revealed that Smith was under a court restraining order for domestic violence secured by an ex-girlfriend. Three days later Smith purchased two guns, a Bryco .38 caliber handgun and a Ruger .22 caliber handgun, from Fiessinger through a classified ad taken out by Fiessinger in the Peoria Journal Star newspaper.

Over the following July 4th weekend, Smith went on a shooting rampage in Illinois and Indiana that targeted African Americans, Jews, and Asians, killing two and wounding nine. The rampage included shootings in Chicago, two of its suburbs, three other Illinois cities, and Bloomington, Indiana. Killed were Ricky Byrdsong, former Northwestern University basketball coach, and Won-Joon Yoon, a South Korean doctoral student at Indiana University. Byrdsong was shot while on a walk with his children in his neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois.


The killing spree ended when Smith committed suicide following a police chase after his car was spotted in southern Illinois.


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