Gunfire at clinic where abortions are performed
By JULIE TURKEWITZ and JACK HEALY NOV. 27, 2015 785 COMMENTS
COLORADO SPRINGS — A gun battle erupted inside a Planned Parenthood center here on Friday when a man armed with an assault-style rifle opened fire and began shooting at officers as they rushed to the scene. The authorities reported that three people were killed, a police officer and two civilians, and nine were wounded before the suspect finally surrendered more than five hours after the first shots were fired.
A police official in Colorado Springs, who was not authorized to speak, identified the man in custody as Robert Lewis Dear, 59. No other information about him was available.
The police did not describe the gunman’s motives. For hours on Friday, officers traded gunfire with him inside the clinic before they were able to shout to the man and persuade him to give up, according to Lt. Catherine Buckley, a police spokeswoman.
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Officer Garrett Swasey, 44, was a six-year veteran of the force who worked at the city’s University of Colorado campus.Garrett Swasey, Officer Killed in Colorado, Is Recalled for Courage and Faith NOV. 28, 2015
“The perpetrator is in custody,” Mayor John Suthers said at an evening news conference. “There is a huge crime scene that has to be processed,” he said, “and we have to determine how many victims there are.”
The gunman injured at least 11 people, including five police officers, at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.
Lieutenant Buckley said the gunman had brought several suspicious items to the clinic, and investigators were trying to determine whether they were explosives.
The shooting came at a time when Planned Parenthood has been criticized because of surreptitious videos made by anti-abortion groups of officials discussing using fetal organs for research. It transformed a shopping area near the clinic into chaos as snow fell and gunshots rang through the parking lot. Black-clad tactical officers stood guard with guns in hand, ambulances lined up and dozens of shoppers and employees were ordered to stay away from windows and lock their businesses’ doors.
The encounter could be heard in transfixing detail on the police scanner, with the authorities describing how they had driven a BearCat armored vehicle into the Planned Parenthood building, smashing through two sets of doors into the lobby and rescuing some of those inside.
“We’re exchanging gunfire,” one officer said on the radio, “We are trying to keep him pinned down.”
“Put gunfire through the walls,” came a reply. “Whatever, we got to stop this guy.”
The standoff, which began shortly after 11:30 a.m., was terrifying for the family members of those inside, such as Joan Motolinia, who said his sister called him from the center as the shots began.
“As soon as I heard the shots, she hung up on me,” he said. “And I didn’t want to call her back and risk her life.”
Officer Garrett Swasey, 44, was a six-year veteran of the force who worked at the city’s University of Colorado campus. Credit University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
The officer killed in the shooting was identified late Friday as Garrett Swasey, 44, a six-year member of the University of Colorado campus police force here. He was among scores of law-enforcement officers, medics and firefighters from the Colorado Springs Police Department, the university police, the El Paso County sheriff’s office, the F.B.I. and other agencies who raced to the scene.
Despite being at a heightened state of alert, F.B.I. officials in Washington appeared caught off guard in the hours after the shooting and said that they knew little about what occurred.
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At a news conference at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, Fire Chief Christopher Riley said he had met with four officers wounded in the shooting and said they were all doing well, conscious and talking, “but obviously injured and shaken.” The conditions of others wounded were not immediately known, and some confusion remained hours after the shooting. One woman who had been inside the clinic said she was still trying to find her boyfriend, who had been with her.
The local authorities were visibly shaken as they stood in the snowy dark to announce that the suspect had been taken into custody and that the siege was over. Much remained unknown, including how many people had been inside the clinic and how the gunfire had erupted. Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the group believed all of its staff members were safe, but was still working to confirm the status of its patients.
Officials from both law enforcement and Planned Parenthood said they did not know whether the group’s Colorado Springs center had been specifically targeted. But the attack carried echoes of other violent assaults on abortion providers, and it prompted the police in New York City to deploy units to Planned Parenthood clinics in the city.
In a statement, Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the group had strong safety measures and worked closely with local law enforcement.
“We don’t yet know the full circumstances and motives behind this criminal action, and we don’t yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of this attack,” she said. “We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country. We will never back away from providing care in a safe, supportive environment that millions of people rely on and trust.”
Since abortion became legal nationally, with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, many abortion clinics and staff members across the country have been subjected to harassment including death and bomb threats, and hundreds of acts of violence including arson, bombings and assaults and eight murders, according to figures compiled by the Naral Pro-Choice America Foundation.
Planned Parenthood’s Colorado Springs center was one of many locations around the county that became the site of large anti-abortion protests over the summer after abortion opponents released surreptitious videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing using fetal organs for research. On Aug. 22, the day of nationwide protests to defund Planned Parenthood, more than 300 people protested outside the clinic here, according to local news reports.
Colorado Springs is an area of fast growth about 60 miles south of Denver and home to an Army base and an Air Force base. Bryan Hawke, 35, a chiropractor who was holed up with six others in his one-story brick-fronted chiropractic office that is across the parking lot from Planned Parenthood, said the center is the scene of near-daily protests.
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“There are protests of varying sizes outside that building probably six days a week,” he said. Sometimes the protests attract as many as 200 people, but “most days there are a dozen people there,” he added.
Mr. Hawke’s receptionist first heard gunshots Friday morning and started shouting. “I heard them yelling at me to grab the keys,” he said. He quickly locked the door.
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Mr. Hawke spent the morning watching SWAT team members swarm the parking lot. They were clad in black, wearing helmets and shields. They spent time pulling people from their cars — people had been stranded in their vehicles when the shooting began.
Denise Speller, a manager at a Supercuts salon near the shooting scene, said she saw police cars streaming through the small shopping center and pull up by a nearby Chase bank as gunshots echoed across the parking lot. She said she saw one officer positioned by his cruiser apparently struck by a bullet.
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“We just saw him go down,” Ms. Speller said in a telephone interview.
Security concerns at the clinic were high enough that the clinic had a “security room” with a supply of bulletproof vests, but, according to an officer on the scanner, some of the vests were still in the room, and one may have been worn by the gunman.
With people sheltering inside the clinic, restaurants and stores, the police ordered residents to stay away from Centennial Boulevard and were checking on the safety of those in the area. “We have put officers and detectives in the different businesses at this point,” Lieutenant Buckley said.
Paul Lambert, the owner of Steins and Vines, a liquor store nearby, said he and an employee were told by the police to lock the door to the shop. Earlier Friday morning, Mr. Lambert said, some of his employees heard gunshots but did not know where they were coming from.
“They had us lock the doors and stay inside where it’s safe,” Mr. Lambert said in a telephone interview.
Looking out his front door, he said he was watching the police evacuate drivers from their cars into a nearby supermarket.
The police said on Twitter that people inside a shopping center and a grocery store nearby were told to shelter in place. The police closed Centennial Boulevard in both directions.
At Fusion Nails, in the shopping complex south of the Planned Parenthood center, Quan Hoang said he was working when he saw police cars swarming in the parking lot near a bank down the street. He stepped outside and heard three gunshots, and officers told the shop’s workers and customers to go inside, lock the doors and stay away from the windows.
About two hours after the first reports of gunshots, Mr. Hoang said three officers were still posted outside his front door, one of them brandishing a shotgun.
“It’s unreal,” Mr. Hoang said.
Julie Turkewitz reported from Colorado Springs, and Jack Healy from Steamboat Springs, Colo. Noel Black contributed reporting from Colorado Springs, Michael Schmidt from Washington, D.C., and Dave Philipps, Christine Hauser and Erik Eckholm from New York.