The suspect behind the deaths of three people in a gun attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs has been identified as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear.
The gunman entered the clinic, which provides a range of women’s health services including abortions, shortly after 11.30am on 26 November. Reportedly carrying an AK-47-style weapon, he initially opened fire in the facility’s car-park with a “stone cold” expression, one witness told CNN.
The gunman killed three people, including a police officer, and injured nine others during a siege that went on for more than five hours. Shoppers barricaded themselves inside local businesses as officers from several law enforcement agencies surrounded the clinic in the central Colorado city. Dear eventually surrendered to police at about 5pm.
John Suthers, the mayor of Colorado Springs, described the incident as “a terrible, terrible tragedy”, but added: “It could have been much worse but for the actions of the first responders, particularly the police officers involved.”
Dear reportedly lives in Harstel, Colorado, around 60 miles from Colorado Springs, but is originally from South Carolina. He has previously been arrested for multiple traffic offences. In 2002 he was found not guilty on two charges of animal cruelty and accused of being a “peeping Tom”, although those charges were later dismissed.
Among the dead was Garrett Swasey, a 44-year-old police officer at the University of Colorado. Swasey, who was married with two young children, spent seven years as a co-pastor at a local church and was formerly a nationally ranked figure skater. Scott Dontanville, his co-pastor, told The New York Times that while Officer Swasey would “disagree with the abortion industry”, that would not have swayed him from his duties.
The two civilians killed in the attack have not yet been named. The wounded were being cared for in local hospitals. Dear is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow.
Vicki Cowart, the regional president of Planned Parenthood, issued a statement late on Friday, saying: “The heart of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is broken tonight as we try to make sense of the horrific tragedy.”
It is not yet known whether the gunman deliberately targeted Planned Parenthood, which runs 700 health centres across the US. The organisation has been criticised by conservative politicians and voters in recent months, after an anti-abortion group released videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the for-profit sale of foetal tissue and organs.
The organisation has denied any wrongdoing, but Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have called for it to lose its funding. In an earlier statement on Friday, Ms Cowart wrote that “extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds acts of violence in this country”. There have been arson attacks on at least four Planned Parenthood clinics across the US this year. According to the National Abortion Federation, at least eight abortion clinic workers have been killed since 1977, the most recent being Dr George Tiller, who was shot dead while serving as an usher at a church in Wichita, Kansas, in 2009.
In what has become a regular refrain, President Barack Obama responded to the latest shooting by calling for stricter gun control: “We have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them.” he said. “Enough is enough.”
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