Memphis, Friday, April 5 -- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached nonviolence and racial brotherhood, was fatally shot here last night by a distant gunman who raced away and escaped.
Four thousand National Guard troops were ordered into Memphis by Gov. Buford Ellington after the 39-year-old Nobel Prize-winning civil rights leader died.
Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, which opened in August 2011, is located in Washington, DC.
A curfew was imposed on the shocked city of 550,000 inhabitants, 40 per cent of whom are Negro.
But the police said the tragedy had been followed by incidents that included sporadic shooting, fires, bricks and bottles thrown at policemen, and looting that started in Negro districts and then spread over the city.
Police Director Frank Holloman said the assassin might have been a white man who was “50 to 100 yards away in a flophouse.”
Chief of Detectives W.P. Huston said a late model white Mustang was believed to have been the killer’s getaway car. Its occupant was described as a bareheaded white man in his 30’s, wearing a black suit and black tie.
The detective chief said the police had chased two cars near the motel where Dr. King was shot and had halted one that had two out-of-town men as occupants. The men were questioned but seemed to have nothing to do with the killing, he said.
A high-powered 30.06-caliber rifle was found about a block from the scene of the shooting, on South Main Street. “We think it’s the gun,” Chief Huston said, reporting it would be turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Dr. King was shot while he leaned over a second-floor railing outside his room at the Lorraine Motel. He was chatting with two friends just before starting for dinner.
One of the friends was a musician, and Dr. King had just asked him to play a Negro spiritual, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” at a rally that was to have been held two hours later in support of striking Memphis sanitation men.
Paul Hess, assistant administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where Dr. King died despite emergency surgery, said the minister had “received a gunshot wound on the right side of the neck, at the root of the neck, a gaping wound.”
“He was pronounced dead at 7:05 P.M. Central standard time (8:05 P.M. New York time) by staff doctors,” Mr. Hess said. “They did everything humanly possible.”
Dr. King’s mourning associates sought to calm the people they met by recalling his messages of peace, but there was widespread concern by law enforcement officers here and elsewhere over potential reactions.
In a television broadcast after the curfew was ordered here, Mr. Holloman said, “rioting has broken out in parts of the city” and “looting is rampant.”
Dr. King had come back to Memphis Wednesday morning to organize support once again for 1,300 sanitation workers who have been striking since Lincoln’s Birthday. Just a week ago yesterday he led a march in the strikers’ cause that ended in violence. A 16-year-old Negro was killed, 62 persons were injured and 200 were arrested.
Yesterday Dr. King had been in his second-floor room- Number 306- throughout the day. Just about 6 P.M. he emerged, wearing a silkish-looking black suit and white shirt.
Solomon Jones Jr., his driver, had been waiting to take him by car to the home of the Rev. Samuel Kyles of Memphis for dinner. Mr. Jones said later he had observed, “It’s cold outside, put your topcoat on,” and Dr. King had replied, “O.K., I will.”