The gunman who killed three people — including one police officer — yesterday at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs has been identified as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, but authorities still aren't sure what prompted Dear's rampage and hours-long standoff at the reproductive health center.
The incident began before noon on Friday when police were first notified of an active shooter near the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, a town about 70 miles south of Denver. Over the police dispatch radio, one officer reported that the gunman was wearing a long coat with a "hunting-type" hat, and said he shot out of the back window of his car when an officer tried to get "a look at him."
The streets surrounding Planned Parenthood were placed on lockdown, and police communicated by cellphone with three people who had barricaded themselves inside a bathroom closet inside the women's sexual health clinic. Others were successfully evacuated by police.
Three people were killed during the siege, including two civilians and a police officer identified as 44-year-old Garrett Swasey, a six-year veteran of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Police Department. Nine others are wounded, including four civilians and five officers who were hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
Dear surrendered to police at around 5pm local time. He is being held on no bond while he awaits his first court scheduled court appearance on Monday.
Colorado Springs Police Lieutenant Catherine Buckley told the local newspaper that they "don't have any information on this individual's mentality, or his ideas or ideology."
Court records reviewed by VICE News indicate that Dear previously lived in North and South Carolina, where he had several encounters with law enforcement. In Colleton County, South Carolina, an individual with the name Robert Lewis Dear Jr. faced several minor traffic charges between 1998 and 2002. In June 2002, a Robert Lewis Dear Jr. was charged with "Peeping Tom, eavesdropping or peeping," in Colleton County, though the case was dismissed. The same individual also had a restraining order filed against him in July 2002.
A person with the name Robert Lewis Dear Jr. is registered to vote in Hartsel, Colorado, a town about 65 miles west of Colorado Springs.
The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that many police were still on the scene of the standoff early Saturday morning, and that two badly damaged police cruisers — including one with the windows shot out — were visible. Dozens of people were trapped in nearby stores after the shooting began, and the paper said many cars were still left behind in the parking lot, now blanketed with several inches of snow that fell overnight.
This is the second time in a month that Colorado Springs was the site of a mass shooting. On October 31, a gunman shot three people downtown before he was killed in a shootout with police.
In response to Friday's shooting, President Barack Obama, whose efforts to tighten gun control have been repeatedly rebuffed by Congress, expressed regret over the incident. "This is not normal" he said in a statement. "We can't let it become normal."
"We don't know what this particular gunman's so-called motive was for shooting 12 people or for terrorizing an entire community" Obama said. "What we do know is that he killed a cop in the line of duty along with two of the citizens that the police officer was trying to protect. We know that law enforcement saved lives, as so many of them do every day, all across America. And we know that more Americans and their families had fear forced upon them."
Planned Parenthood provides affordable reproductive healthcare to men and women, and has been the subject of ongoing controversy over its operations, which includes providing abortion-related services.
In September, Congress began a series of hearings and investigations into Planned Parenthood's activities after "sting" videos were posted online by a pro-life organization. The videos purportedly show Planned Parenthood staffers discussing the sale of fetal tissue, which is illegal.
Planned Parenthood says the videos were distorted, and that accepting donations for tissue is "fully legal, appropriate, and common among healthcare providers." But following a push by Republican members of Congress to block roughly half a billion dollars of annual federal funding allocated to the group, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards announced last month it would no longer be accepting any reimbursement for tissue to "take away any basis for attacking Planned Parenthood to advance an anti-abortion political agenda."
Abortion-related services account for only three percent of services provided by Planned Parenthood, which also provides contraception, as well as screenings for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
Vicky Cowart, the CEO of Planned Parenthood in the Rocky Mountains, released a statement Friday about the shooting. "We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country," she said.
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