Suspect in Colorado attack that left 3 dead left few clues
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The gunman suspected of storming a Planned Parenthood clinic and killing a police officer and two others used the phrase ''no more baby parts'' to explain his act, according to a law enforcement official, a comment sure to further inflame the heated rhetoric surrounding abortion.
Robert Lewis Dear 's attack on the clinic was ''definitely politically motivated,'' said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is still underway. NBC News, which first reported the comment, said that Dear also mentioned President Barack Obama in a range of statements to investigators that left his precise motivation unclear.
Yet even as authorities released few details about Friday's shootings, the politics of the highly charged abortion issue seemed to outstrip their efforts to be methodical. While antiabortion activists denied any knowledge of Dear and said he is not affiliated with their movement, pro-choice activists countered that comments by conservatives against Planned Parenthood had precipitated the violence.
Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, cited ''eyewitness accounts'' in asserting that Dear ''was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion.''
''We've seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months,'' she said in a statement. ''That environment breeds acts of violence.''
Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and other health-care services, has been at the center of a political storm as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up. Republican candidates have denounced the organization, especially after an antiabortion group released a series of surreptitiously filmed videos in which Planned Parenthood officials discussed the techniques and financial aspects of harvesting fetal-tissue samples for scientific research.
It was at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic where Dear, 57, is accused of fatally shooting University of Colorado police officer Garrett Swasey and two as-yet unnamed civilians. At least four other officers and five more civilians were also injured. Officials said Saturday that the injured victims were expected to recover.
Dear was described by people who know him as a malcontent and drifter who has had numerous run-ins with the law. Dear, who moved to Colorado last year, is being held without bond and is scheduled to appear in court Monday, local media reported.
He is expected to first face state charges and then additional federal charges, said the law enforcement official. It was unclear Saturday if an attorney for Dear had been appointed.
On Saturday, witnesses described scenes of chaos and carnage as the gunshots began on a traditionally quiet Friday of post-Thanksgiving relaxation, with police responding to a call for help from the clinic, in a bustling area near a shopping center, medical building, grocery store and restaurants.
A burst of gunfire early on gave way to relative calm in the afternoon, but witnesses said gunfire started again in the evening. Many workers and shoppers in the area were told to hunker down in place, whether it be in the kitchen of their restaurant or the back seat of their car. Some remained there for hours as snow accumulated and the sky darkened.
Authorities said that Dear was armed with what they described as a long gun and had also brought into the clinic several unspecified items that could have been explosives. President Obama, in his first reaction to the shootings, issued a refrain for more gun-control measures, which has become a depressingly familiar ritual after mass shootings.
But unlike after other incidents - such as June's shooting deaths of nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina - Obama limited his remarks to a written statement. Regardless of the motive, he said, the frequency of mass killings in the United States is unacceptable.
''This is not normal. We can't let it become normal,'' the president said. ''If we truly care about this . . . then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough.''
On the Republican campaign trail, candidates who have been full-throated in their denunciations of Planned Parenthood for much of the year fell nearly silent. Only Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich referred to the shootings, but neither mentioned Planned Parenthood.
All three leading Democratic candidates issued statements supporting Planned Parenthood, and they were joined by others in the pro-choice community who condemned the criticism of the organization and said it led to the shootings.
Referring to antiabortion groups, Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, an association for abortion providers, said : ''They have ignited a firestorm of hate. They knew there could be these types of consequences. . . . It's not a huge surprise that somebody would take this type of action.''
Antiabortion groups were quick to denounce the shooting and distance themselves from Dear, with numerous activists saying they have never interacted with or heard of him. Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a controversial group that tracks abortion clinics and posts information about abortion doctors on its Web site, said he immediately entered Dear's name into his membership database and came up empty.
''One thing we do know is the guy is a very dangerous, unstable individual who desired to kill people, and that is not in any way what the pro-life movement stands for,'' Newman said.
The law enforcement response to the shootings also came under scrutiny on Saturday because authorities had engaged in a five-hour standoff with the shooter on Friday. The first call for help came in to the Colorado Springs Emergency Communications Center about 11:38 a.m. Mountain time authorities said, with numerous officers and agents deploying to the 3400 block of Centennial Boulevard.
Dear was taken into custody at 4:52 p.m. At various points during the intervening hours, officials said the shooter had been contained, then appeared to reverse themselves.
But Jim Davis, who formerly headed the FBI's Denver division and served as executive director of Colorado's public safety department, said the response ''went exactly as planned'' and reflected what was learned from the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton. Two students killed 12 students, a teacher and themselves that day, and authorities were later criticized for waiting too long to intervene.
''The lesson from Columbine is we can't wait for communications to be set up, can't wait for a tactical team to arrive, so police are trained to just go to the sound of the gunfire,'' Davis said. He said some of Friday's confusion could have come from people tweeting out information from police scanners, which can be inaccurate.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who along with officers watched the tragic events unfold on live surveillance video from security cameras inside the clinic, told NBC that the death toll could have been much higher. ''I have no doubt that but for the way they handled this, there could have been even more victims,'' he said.
Lowery and Markon reported from Washington. The Washington Post's Sandhya Somashekhar, Peter Holley, Jennifer Jenkins, Alice Crites and Julie Tate contributed to this report.