FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., Dec. 11 -- Funeral services were held Monday in Fayetteville, N.C., for two African Americans shot and killed last week in what appeared to be a racially motivated random act of violence. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, the national executive director of the Million Man March, eulogized Jackie Burden, 27, and Michael James, 36, at the Willis Creek AME Zion Church in Fayetteville. A joint service was held for the two friends who died together. Burden and James were gunned down early Thursday as they walked along a dimly lit street near downtown Fayetteville. Both were shot in the head from close range. Police said Burden was dead at the scene, but James lived long enough to be rushed to a nearby hospital where he died. Fayetteville police have charged two members of the elite 82nd Airborne unit at nearby Fort Bragg with killing Burden and James, and a third soldier with conspiracy to commit murder. Army privates James Norman Burmeister II, 20, of Thompson, Pa., and Malcolm Wright, 21, of Louisville, Ky., face two counts of first-degree murder. Spec. Randy Lee Meadows Jr., 21, of Mulkeytown, Ill., was charged as an accessory because he was driving the car. According to police, the soldiers participated in a loose-knit skinhead community in the area and had gone out to harass blacks after a night of drinking. They apparently picked their victims at random. Police investigators said Burmeister and Wright walked up to the couple and Burmeister allegedly fired five shots at them.
Chavis, the former national director of the NAACP, suggested the violence may have been the result of the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., Oct. 16. There has been a slew of unexplained deaths and killings in African American communities across the country since the mass gathering in the nation's capital, Chavis said. He issued a call for a congressional probe to determine whether an organized effort was behind the shootings. Monday's edition of the Washington Post reported the 82nd Airborne had begun investigating whether there was widespread participation of its soldiers in white supremacist groups, which is a violation of Army regulation and punishable by a dishonorable discharge. The newspaper said there has been a history of white supremacist allegations at Fort Bragg dating back to the 1980s. There are also several night clubs and bars in the Fayetteville area that cater to civilians and soldiers espousing racist views, the newspaper reported.