scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Clinic shooting suspect John Salvi captured

N.H. man held in Brookline deaths after Virginia facility hit

Abortion protesters (from left) Ed Hyatt, Bill Powell and his wife, Rae Powell, all of Virginia Beach, Va., prayed for John C. Salvi 3d in front of the Norfolk City Jail.AP/File 1995

NORFOLK, Va. — John C. Salvi 3d, the Scripture-quoting loner wanted in the slayings of two women at Brookline abortion clinics Friday, was captured yesterday afternoon after allegedly spraying dozens of rounds at another clinic in Norfolk, Va.

Salvi, 22, a would-be hairdresser from Hampton Beach, N.H., described by some as a religious fanatic on the fringes of the antiabortion movement, eluded a massive manhunt in New England and drove his black Toyota pickup truck to the Hillcrest clinic in Norfolk, arriving shortly before noon.

There, he again pulled his collapsible rifle out of a black duffel bag and opened fire, shooting through a rear door, authorities said. Some of the shots passed through the building and narrowly missed a small band of protesters, Norfolk police spokesman Larry Hill.


Salvi was spotted by a local arson investigator, who radioed for help and gave chase. The investigator, Ken Harlan, was checking into an unrelated fire at an automated teller machine in the building.

When Salvi's pickup was pulled over by Norfolk police about three blocks

from the clinic, he tossed his .22-caliber Ruger rifle out the window and surrendered, according to Richard Swensen, FBI special agent in charge in Boston. Salvi's identification was found in the truck, but police did not immediately link him to the Brookline clinic shootings.

John C. Salvi 3dAP/File 1995

Norfolk police said the back door of the Hillcrest clinic was open and that Salvi could have walked right into the clinic, as he allegedly did twice in Brookline, but inexplicably decided not to.

"He could have gotten into the building if he wanted to," Hill said. "He could have taken an elevator right up to the clinic."

Officials speculated that Salvi knew of the Hillcrest clinic, although they do not know how.

Abortion opponents, who are well-organized and vocal in Norfolk, have singled out the Hillcrest clinic for a series of demonstrations. It was the site of an attempted bombing in 1984.


"You just don't show up in a city and immediately find the local abortion clinic unless you know something about it," a law enforcement official said.

Salvi was held overnight at a Norfolk jail, where Massachusetts State Police detectives were questioning him. Salvi was "very calm" during that questioning, said Norfolk police spokesman Hill..

Salvi will be arraigned Tuesday at Norfolk General District Court on one felony count of shooting a weapon into an occupied building. Salvi is expected to be returned to Boston by federal marshals early this week, and turned over to Massachusetts officials for prosecution on two murder charges and five counts of armed assault with intent to murder, said Norfolk District Attorney William D. Delahunt.

Salvi's arrest capped the most violent episode in the history of abortion protest in America. It was the latest in a series of deadly incidents that have broadened abortion rights from a moral and political debate into a public safety crisis.

At a press conference yesterday on the Brookline police station steps, federal and state officials praised the hunt. "It was a massive effort proportionate to the severity and seriousness of the crime," said Donald K. Stern, US attorney for Massachusetts.

Yet, at the time of Salvi's capture by Norfolk police, federal and state authorities in Massachusetts were still concentrating their search in New Hampshire, and becoming openly frustrated over their inability to locate him. Salvi had indeed returned briefly to his Hampton Beach, N.H., home Friday afternoon after the Brookline shootings to change his clothes and put his Christmas tree out in the trash, law enforcement sources said. Then he apparently turned south for Norfolk.


In the meantime, a picture began to emerge of Salvi as a friendless recluse who lived alone for the past five months in a one-room apartment in a largely deserted stretch of Hampton Beach, and was reluctant to give his phone number or address to coworkers at the hairdressing shops where he trained.

An only child who grew up in Ipswich, Mass., and Florida, Salvi seemed despondent in recent days after arguments with his parents and with a customer. One coworker described him as a "walking time bomb"; another as a ''stick of dynamite."

"When you talked to him, he either stared you down or walked away," said Doreen Potter, who manages a Portsmouth, N.H., salon where Salvi worked.

While virtually unknown in the antiabortion movement, Salvi apparently had participated in protests outside the Planned Parenthood office in Brookline that was his first target Friday. His 1987 pickup truck, which had photos of an aborted fetus both on a back window and on the dashboard, received a parking ticket outside the Beacon Street clinic last May 14, the same day as a large demonstration.

"We don't have him affiliated with any groups," said a ranking law enforcement official. "He is a lone ranger."

Salvi's parents, who were interviewed by the FBI in South Carolina yesterday, have cooperated with authorities. Salvi's aunt, interviewed by phone in Naples, Fla., said that the family was heartbroken. "This is going to kill us," said Diane Salvi, sobbing. "Everything was going so good for us until now." She said that a local priest would help break the news to Salvi's 91-year-old grandmother.


As attention was turned to Norfolk, 2,000 abortion rights activists rallied yesterday afternoon at a National Organization for Women demonstration outside the State House in Boston. State Police cruisers protected the Planned

Parenthood and Preterm Health Services clinics in Brookline, while steady streams of people stopped outside to lay bundles of flowers or make sure that memorial candles still flickered.

Officials at Preterm plan to meet on Tuesday to decide when to reopen their clinic, which was immediately shuttered after Friday's attack. "Preterm has every intention of continuing to serve all patients who need us," clinic officials said in a written statement issued yesterday.

Funeral arrangements remained incomplete for the two murdered women, 25- year-old Shannon Lowney of Arlington, a receptionist at Planned Parenthood, and 38-year-old Leanne Nichols of Salem, N.H. Lowney, a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College, believed she was supporting women's right to an abortion by her work. Nichols, a receptionist at Preterm, had worked for two Brookline abortion clinics in the last four years.

One of the wounded, Richard J. Seron, a 45-year-old security guard at Preterm, was released yesterday from Brigham and Women's Hospital. The other four remained hospitalized.


Anjana Agrawal, 30, of Cambridge, a medical assistant at Planned

Parenthood, was in serious but stable condition yesterday at Beth Israel Hospital, as was Brian Murray, 22, of Hingham, who was injured while at Planned Parenthood with a patient of the clinic.

Jane Sauer, 29, of Cambridge, a Preterm clinic worker, and Antonio

Hernandez, 32, of Worcester, who had accompanied a friend to Planned

Parenthood, were both in fair condition at Brigham and Women's.

State Attorney General Scott Harshbarger announced that authorities will provide counseling services for the victims and their families. Authorities also will assess security needs at abortion clinics around the state, in the wake of criticism that Salvi was able to walk into Planned Parenthood and Preterm without being stopped or questioned. Sources at Preterm, who requested anonymity, said that their clinic had stopped hiring Brookline police on paid detail on Saturdays earlier this year to save money.

Although her car windshield was struck by a bullet fired by the gunman Friday outside Preterm, an antiabortion protester said that the shootings should not distract attention from the outrage of abortion itself. "As horrible as this tragedy was, and I was there, I know it was horrible, we need to continue to focus our attention in prayer on these abortions," said Lorraine Loewen. "They too are murders."

Loewen said that she and several others who participate in vigils outside the two Brookline clinics have not decided whether to heed Cardinal Bernard Law's request for a moratorium.

Protests at local clinics had eased in recent months, lulling employees into the belief that the threat of antiabortion violence had receded. Then, around 10 a.m. Friday, a gunman dressed in black and with an emotionless demeanor exploded that illusion of security by shooting four people at Planned

Parenthood and three others at Preterm. Law enforcement sources said there was no indication that he had an accomplice.

When he fled Preterm, Salvi is believed to have left behind a duffel bag containing receipts for ammunition purchased at a gun shop and target range in Salisbury. The bag also contained a handgun and ammunition. A key break leading to Salvi's arrest came when authorities called the gun shop's clerk, whose parents said he was on his way to his New York college, on a bus.

Delahunt's office asked Rhode Island State Police to pull the Bonanza bus over. Troopers boarded the bus at a station in Providence and asked if Fred Smith, the clerk, was on board. Smith identified himself, and police told him he was wanted for questioning in the Brookline abortion clinic murders.

Smith was driven back to Massachusetts by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and, during nearly a dozen hours of questioning, provided information that law enforcement sources said was critical in identifying Salvi as the prime suspect.

"He was absolutely essential," said one law enforcement source.

However, the owner of Bob's Tactical Indoor Shooting Range and Gun Shop said he had never seen Salvi before. "I saw his picture on TV last night and didn't recognize him," said Frank Smith.

On Friday, police also searched for an antiabortion activist who had a video camera outside the Planned Parenthood clinic, in hopes that he had captured the suspect on tape. They found him at a prayer service, and he agreed to turn the video over.

A law enforcement source said that in the search of Salvi's house, authorities found receipts for the weapons, an instruction manual for the .22- caliber collapsible Ruger rifle, a large amount of ammunition, two pages of gun shop listings torn from the Yellow Pages, a slew of antiabortion materials and the box in which the rifle was originially packaged.

Salvi was last seen at 1 p.m. by his landlady in New Hampshire. He likely escaped the area before state and federal authorities even realized who they were looking for, law enforcement sources said.

Even Salvi's relatives apparently found it difficult to relate to him. Police late yesterday interviewed Salvi's uncle, Denis Trudel, who described his nephew as "a religious fanatic and someone he felt was bizarre and expressed a dislike for."

GOLDEN;12/31 NIGRO ;01/03,10:26 SHOOTI01


MEMO: Brookline abortion clinic shootings

Contributing to this story were Globe staffers Chris Black

in Norfolk, Va., and Judy Rakowsky, Royal Ford, Kevin

Cullen, Stephen Kurkjian, Shelley Murphy, Howard Manly and

Charles M. Sennott and contributing reporter Clare

Kittredge in Boston.