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Shooting at Colo. Abortion Clinic Kills Three, Injures Nine

Shooting at Colo. Abortion Clinic Kills Three, Injures Nine

November 30, 2015 — A man on Friday opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic shortly after 11:30 a.m. MT, killing three individuals and injuring nine others, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, the suspect, Robert Dear, surrendered after a standoff lasting over five hours. He is now in custody (Turkewitz/Healy, New York Times, 11/27).

Shooting Details

According to the Washington Post, police responded to calls for help at the clinic at about 11:30 a.m. MT on Friday. State officials and officers from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the FBI, joined local police in responding to the situation.

Witnesses report that the assault began with gunfire, followed by several hours of a standoff between Dear and law enforcement during which the police were able to evacuate some of the people inside the clinic. There were reports of additional gunfire later in the afternoon. Sometime after 4:00 p.m. MT, officers managed to enter the building and speak with Dear, who eventually surrendered (Somashekhar et al., Washington Post, 11/28).

According to the Times, the Colorado clinic already had heightened security measures in place, including a "security room" where bulletproof vests were stored (New York Times, 11/27). Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said some individuals were able to protect themselves from the assault by following clinic protocols and securing themselves in the safe room.

In addition to an assault rifle, Dear brought several other items into the clinic and left other items outside, which might have been explosives or booby traps. Lt. Catherine Buckley, spokesperson for the city police, said it could take several days to process the crime scene (Coffman, Reuters, 11/28).

Dear currently is being held without bail in the El Paso County sheriff's office. He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday. As of Saturday, he had not been formally charged with any crimes in relation to the shooting (Frosch et al., Wall Street Journal, 11/28).

Details on Victims

The three individuals killed during the assault include one police officer and two civilians. The police officer has been identified as Garrett Swasey, a 44-year-old who has been serving for six years as a member of the campus police force at the University of Colorado (New York Times, 11/27). The civilian victims were Ke'Arre Stewart, a 29-year-old Army veteran, DJ, entrepreneur and father of two, and Jennifer Markovsky, a 35-year-old mother of two who had gone to the clinic to support a friend (Paquette et al., Washington Post, 11/29).

According to Reuters, an additional five police officers and four civilians were injured in the attack. Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carney on Friday said they were in local hospitals and in "good condition" (Reuters, 11/28).

Meanwhile, Cowart said no clinic staff were injured or killed in the attack, stating that they all were at "home and OK."

Motivations Unclear, Possibly Linked to Antiabortion-Rights Sentiment

Law enforcement has not disclosed the motivations behind the assault. However, following his arrest, Dear reportedly made antiabortion-rights statements to law enforcement (Wall Street Journal, 11/28). Law enforcement officials said they are interviewing Dear's family, friends and associates to learn whether he was linked to any extremist groups or whether he had shared details of his plans with anyone. Officials said they did not know whether Dear was politically motivated (Calmes, New York Times, 11/29).

According to the Times, the attack comes amid an increase of antiabortion-rights violence that followed the release of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program. Locals who work near the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic report that abortion-rights opponents frequently protest outside the clinic (New York Times, 11/27). Meanwhile, according to the Post, at least four other Planned Parenthood clinics across the country have reported cases of arson since the videos' release (Washington Post, 11/28).

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers on Sunday responded to questions about whether Planned Parenthood was the target of the attack, saying, "It certainly appears that way." He added, "Obviously, people are going to infer, and probably not illogically, that the location had something to do with [Dear's] motivation, and that may well turn out to be the reality" (Wall Street Journal, 11/28).

Cowart said, "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." However, she noted, "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" (New York Times, 11/27).

Colo. Clinic To Open on Monday, N.Y. Clinics Tighten Security

At a vigil for victims on Saturday, Cowart said the clinic would reopen on Monday (Richardson, "Briefing Room," The Hill, 11/28). "We will adapt. We will square our shoulders and we will move on," she said, adding, "We will show up for work on Monday" (Wall Street Journal, 11/28).

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced that state police had begun increasing security at the more than 60 Planned Parenthood clinics located throughout the state. According to Cuomo, state police will review the security measures that clinics currently have in place and work with local law enforcement to boost patrols.

Cuomo said, "While we are still learning more about what led to this horrendous attack in Colorado, we are taking appropriate precautions and doing everything possible to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in our state."

Lauren Tobias, president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates and Planned Parenthood Advocates of New York, said while the motives behind the Colorado attack were unclear, "unfortunately there is a history of people bringing violence to health centers in the past and so an incident such as this underscores the need for vigilance to ensure that patients and the staff that provide services are safe at all health centers" (Spector, USA Today, 11/28).


Cecile Richards, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the brave law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm's way in Colorado Springs." She added, "We are profoundly grateful for their heroism in helping to protect all women, men and young people as they access basic health care in this country" (Washington Post, 11/28).

PPFA Vice President Dawn Laguens criticized lawmakers who condemned the shooting while condoning antiabortion-rights language. "It's not enough to denounce the tragedy without also denouncing the poisonous rhetoric that fueled it," she said, adding, "Instead, some politicians are continuing to stoke it, which is unconscionable" (Coffman, Reuters, 11/29).

Meanwhile, President Obama condemned the shooting on Saturday as one of a series of recurrent instances of gun violence in the country. "We can't let it become normal," he said in a statement (Martin, New York Times, 11/28).

Assault Comes Amid 'Alarming' Uptick in Antiabortion-Rights Violence

Although Dear's motivations for the shooting on Friday still are unknown, "[t]hreats and attacks on abortion providers have spiked dramatically in the four months since an antiabortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress released a series of heavily edited videos" targeting Planned Parenthood," columnist Zoë Carpenter writes in an opinion piece for The Nation.

Carpenter writes that the FBI in September "noted an increase in cyber attacks and arsons, and warned that it was 'likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities.'" She notes that a California-based Planned Parenthood clinic was fire-bombed in October, "following three similar incidents in Illinois, Louisiana and Washington," as well as a two incidents of vandalism at a New Hampshire clinic. According to Carpenter, the shooting on Friday "was the worst death toll in the history of clinic violence, which has com[e] in waves since the Supreme Court legalized abortion with its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade."

She notes that while CMP and other antiabortion-rights groups "moved immediately to distance themselves from the Colorado shooting ... those groups and many anti-abortion politicians have worked for years to demonize and dehumanize abortion providers." She explains, "Rhetoric that likens doctors who provide legal health services to murderers, even Hitler, does more to incite violence than it does to promote peace; and the line between anti-abortion activists who harass women 'peacefully' and those [who] vandalize clinics has proven in practice to be somewhat slippery."

She continues, "The CMP videos provoked a number of congressional and state-level investigations, but so far the only evidence of illegal activity implicates not Planned Parenthood but the anti-abortion activists who've responded to the videos with vandalism, arson, and possibly murder."

Carpenter adds "that anti-abortion terrorism exists on a continuum with subtler forms of intimidation and obstruction that have over the past several years made the legality of abortion nearly irrelevant for some women, particular those at the bottom of the economic ladder." She notes that while violence "has not been the most effective means of ending the right to choose," given the "the courage of clinic staff, patients, and escorts," such tactics are "now making the ... war on women more transparent than ever" (Carpenter, The Nation, 11/28).