What We Know About the 'Very Weird' Planned Parenthood Shooting Suspect

Over the weekend, a clearer picture of 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear took shape.

by Brian McManus
30 November 2015, 8:30pm

Robert Lewis Dear. Photo via Colorado Springs Police Department

On Friday afternoon, shots rang out at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs. The suspected shooter holed up inside the clinic, and police arrived to a tense and bloody standoff that lasted five hours. Three people—a police officer, an Iraq War veteran, and a mother of two—were killed (and nine more were injured) before Robert Lewis Dear, 57, was convinced to surrender.

Though his motives remain hard to pin down, over the weekend a clearer picture of Dear took shape, one that adheres all too well to the familiar archetype of the aggrieved, troubled white man with a history of anger against women.

Dear's widely-reported statement to police that there would be "no more baby parts" seems to support the views of Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, who told CNN she believes he "was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion." But Dear has reportedly said a lot of stuff to law enforcement while in custody, including, NBC News reports, some kind of mention of President Barack Obama.

Neighbors of Dear—who before moving to Colorado last year lived in a shack in the mountains of North Carolina that had no running water—have told the press he kept to himself, avoided eye contact, and rarely made sense when he spoke. "If you talked to him, nothing with him was very cognitive—topics all over place," his longtime neighbor James Russell told the Associated Press. Dear was the kind of guy you "had to watch out for," he added.

"He was a very weird individual. It's hard to explain, but he had a weird look in his eye most of the time," a neighbor who wished to remain anonymous told the Washington Post.

But neighbors there said abortion, politics, and religion didn't really come up when talking with Dear, even if he "complained about everything," as another neighbor put it. Dear sounds paranoid and hermit-like, and apparently believed everyone was out to "get him."

"It was very crazy," the former neighbor told the Post.

Last year, Dear bought a $6,000 chunk of land in Hartsel, Colorado, and parked a trailer on it. A neighbor, Zigmond Post Jr., lived about a quarter mile away, and recalled one brief but odd run-in with Dear, which occurred after Post's dogs ran onto Dear's property. "We got the dogs back and everything and as we were getting ready to leave he handed us some anti-Obama pamphlets and told us to look over them," Post told Reuters.

Another Colorado neighbor told the New York Times that Dear "preferred to be left alone," though was apparently living with a girlfriend prior to the incident. The paper visited with Dear's ex-wife, Pamela Ross, who told them he was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. Dear's father, who passed away in 2004, was a graduate of the Citadel, and served in the Navy during World War II. Ross told the Times Dear "was not obsessed with politics" and, though he believed abortion was wrong, "it was never really a topic for discussion." (The paper also reported that Dear apparently "sought partners for sadomasochistic sex" online.)

The "baby parts" Dear referred to while in custody is perhaps a vague reference to video tapes, recorded secretly by an anti-abortion group called Center for Medical Progress. In the videos, which were released this summer, employees of Planned Parenthood are depicted discussing the body parts of aborted fetuses, which they were looking to sell for research. Though analysis has proved the videos to be altered and largely deceptive, they stoked much outrage, even among Republican presidential candidates. The defunding of Planned Parenthood has been hotly debated since the tapes have been made public, and Congress may vote on the question when deciding whether to fund the government in a matter of days.

Planned Parenthood operates more than 700 clinics in the United States, and bills itself the largest provider of reproductive health services in America. In 2013, they saw an estimated 2.7 million patients, 80 percent of whom came in for low-cost birth control prescriptions or screening for sexually transmitted diseases. The group is also the country's largest provider of abortion, but even though it is federally funded, tax dollars are not spent on abortion services as part of a Reagan-era budget compromise.

Records show Dear has had several run-ins with the law over the years, and in the past he's been accused of being a "peeping Tom," domestic violence—his ex-wife declined to press charges—and was charged with two counts of animal cruelty. He is currently being held without bond by the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center, and was set to make his first court appearance on Monday afternoon, where he will face state murder charges. Justice Department officials are also reportedly weighing the possibility of federal charges for Dear, which could be feasible under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. That law makes it a crime to injure or intimidate reproductive health clinic patients and employees.

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