A man opened fire on Black Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing three, including a police officer, and wounding four officers and six civilians. Employees and patrons of businesses near the facility were told by authorities to shelter in place after the suspect, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, barricaded himself inside and exchanged gunfire with police for five hours before surrendering.
“This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal,” President Obama said in a statement early Saturday — his 16th set of remarks following a shooting rampage. “If we truly care about this — if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — 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.”
As the story continues to evolve, here are eight developments of note:
The three victims have been identified.
Garrett Swasey, 44, an officer at the nearby University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was the first victim identified. Swasey, a volunteer pastor and former championship ice dancer, arrived at the scene just minutes after dispatchers received a call of shots fired. “He’s an absolute man of courage,” Kurt Aichele, a co-pastor at Swasey’s church, told The New York Times.
The civilian victims are a veteran of the Iraq War and a mother of two.
Ke’Arre M. Stewart, 29, who was discharged from the Army in 2014, was at the Planned Parenthood clinic with his girlfriend, according to reports. He encountered the gunman while exiting the facility. Family members described Stewart as a caring father to his two daughters. “He was so loving and so gentle,” a former colleague told the Washington Post.
Jennifer Markovsky, 35, was at the clinic to accompany a friend. She was married with two children, a boy and a girl, and worked at KMart, according to her Facebook profile.
The gunman had a history of disputes with relatives and neighbors.
Robert Lewis Dear is a resident of Hartsel, Colorado, a small town located an hour west of Colorado Springs. From 1997 to at least 2007, he lived in Walterboro, South Carolina, before moving to a cabin without electricity or running water in Black Mountain, North Carolina, according to reports.
Neighbors described Dear as a loner with erratic tendencies. “If you talked to him, nothing with him was very cognitive — topics all over place,” one told the Associated Press.
Dear also had several run-ins with the law. Buzzfeed News reports that he has been investigated for domestic abuse, animal cruelty, and spying on his neighbor’s wife —who obtained a restraining order against him in 2002. It is not yet known if any of these charges resulted in Dear being prohibited from owning a firearm.
In 1997, Dear was interviewed by police in Walterboro, South Carolina, after his wife alleged he hit her and pushed her out of window, resulting in a minor injury, according to a police report. “The victim wanted something on record of this incident occurring. The victim does not wish to file any charges at this time,” the report by the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office read.
In May 2002, Dear was investigated in Walterboro for “making unwanted advancements,” while on Memorial Day weekend in 2001 a couple told police they noticed Dear lurking in the bushes by their house.
On September 27, 2005, Deputy Buchanan took a report from victim Douglas Moore, who told police that Dear called him on September 24 and told him he was going to do bodily harm because he thought Moore pushed his motorcycle over on the ground.
Reports suggest the suspected gunman had anti-abortion and anti-government views.
Late into the weekend, several reports surfaced indicated that the alleged attacker expressed anti-abortion views while in police custody, telling authorities “no more baby parts” after his arrest. However, the articles quoted anonymous law enforcement sources, and investigators have not publicly commented on whether the attack was inspired by ideology.
Planned Parenthood has been the focus of intense criticism since July, when heavily-edited video footage emerged showing officials talking about the sale of fetal tissue and organs. The Colorado Springs branch performs abortions and was protested by anti-abortion activists.
Vicki Cowart, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, released a statement Sunday saying that “eyewitness accounts” confirm that Dear was “motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion.”
Jim Canavaugh, a former ATF special agent, speculated on MSNBC that had Dear’s intentions been to inflict maximum damage, he would have targeted a public place. “This seems like a much more focused attack,” he said. “He went to Planned Parenthood. Clinics that give abortion services to women have been under attack for 40 years in America.”
In September, an FBI threat assessment warned that “it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities.”
Police refused the assistance of an armed citizen during the five-hour standoff.
The Gazette newspaper reported Friday that a man walked up to police staging outside the Planned Parenthood armed “with a handgun strapped to his waist and ammunition vest around his chest” and appeared to ask if he could help. “Officers told him to leave immediately because appearing at the scene while wearing firearms and that equipment was a bad idea.”
The attack marks the deadliest shooting at a women’s health clinic.
Before Friday, the distinction was held by a string of Boston-area shootings in 1994. On December 3o of that year, John Salvi, a 23-year-old abortion opponent armed with a .22-caliber hunting rifle, shot and killed two women and wounded five others in attacks on two Planned Parenthood branches a few miles apart in Boston and Brookline. Police were able to identify him from a gun shop receipt found in a bag he abandoned after the first attack. Salvi committed suicide in his prison cell shortly after being convicted of murder.
This is the second shooting rampage in Colorado Springs in less than a month.
On October 31, a man opened fire in downtown Colorado Springs, killing three people. A woman reporting a suspicious man holding a rifle was told by a police dispatcher that the gunman was within his rights because of the state’s open carry law, and the call was not designated a top priority.
Miranda Schilter, 17, who waited out Friday’s siege in a coffee shop, witnessed both shootings. “The first time she cried,” her boyfriend, Jackson Ricker, told the New York Times. But not this time: “She’s a veteran now.”
Colorado instituted background checks on private gun sales and magazine capacity limits in 2013.
A year after the Aurora movie theater shooting, Colorado passed a law requiring background checks for all firearm sales, and prohibited the sale or transfer of magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds. The laws met fierce resistance from gun-rights advocates, who launched a recall effort against three state lawmakers. Democratic State Senator Evie Hudak, who supported the new gun regulations, resigned in 2013 to avoid a recall election.
Colorado ranks #37 on Guns and Ammo’s annual list of best states for gun rights. The state does not require a permit to purchase a firearm, nor does it require registration. It’s also a “shall issue” state for concealed carry permits, which means that local sheriffs must issue a license if an applicant meets a specified criteria. Open carry is legal without a permit everywhere in the state except in Denver. John Suthers, the mayor of Colorado Springs, said as he toured the crime scene Saturday morning that he supports the state’s open carry law.
[Photo: Daniel Owen/The Gazette via AP]