Tuesday 20 August 2019

Planned Parenthood shooting suspect described as a loner

Vicki Cowart, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, speaks during a vigil to mark Friday's shooting (AP)
Vicki Cowart, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, speaks during a vigil to mark Friday's shooting (AP)
Police officer Garrett Swasey was killed in the shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs (AP)
An officer stands guard at the clinic amid the stand-off (AP)
Lieutenant Catherine Buckley talks to the media after the shooting (AP)

A man who opened fire at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic and killed three people, including a police officer, has been described as a loner who avoided eye contact, authorities said.

Authorities were not ready to discuss a possible motive after interviewing 57-year-old suspect Robert Lewis Dear, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said.

But people can make "inferences from where it took place", said Mr Suthers, a former state attorney general who also suggested Dear's mental health was part of the investigation.

Planned Parenthood is a national women's health care provider that offers abortions at some clinics.

But those who knew Dear said he seemed to have few religious or political leanings.

"If you talked to him, nothing with him was very cognitive - topics all over place," said James Russell, who lives a few hundred feet from Dear in the North Carolina town of Black Mountain.

Police say Dear entered the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire on Friday.

The five-hour siege that followed included several gun battles with police as patients and staff members took cover under furniture and inside locked rooms.

By the time the gunman surrendered, three people were dead - including a police officer - and nine others were wounded.

It marked the latest mass shooting to stun the nation and prompted US president Barack Obama to warn: "We can't let it become normal."

"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," the president said.

Planned Parenthood said all its staff members at the clinic were safe and that it did not know whether the organisation was the target of the attack.

University of Colorado police officer Garrett Swasey, 44, a six-year veteran of the force, was killed during the siege. He was married and had a son and daughter, according to the website of his church, Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs.

No details were immediately available about the two civilians who died. Five other officers and four people were taken to hospital in good condition. At least four of those victims were later released.

"Certainly it could have been much, much worse if it were not for the heroism of our police officers to corner the person in the building," Colorado Springs fire chief Chris Riley said.

Mr Suthers praised the security staff on duty at the clinic and said they were helpful in working with police to monitor the gunman's whereabouts on surveillance video and advising on the building's layout.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene when the shooting first started just before noon local time.

Ozy Licano said he was in the parking lot of the two-storey building and trying to escape in his car when the gunman looked at him.

"He came out, and we looked each other in the eye, and he started aiming, and then he started shooting," Mr Licano said. "I saw two holes go right through my windshield as I was trying to quickly back up and he just kept shooting and I started bleeding."

Mr Licano drove away and took refuge at a nearby grocery store.

For others, the first sign that something was wrong came when police appeared and ushered people to the second floor. Planned Parenthood employee Cynthia Garcia told her mother, Tina Garcia, that the officers would not say why they were gathering everybody together. Then she heard the gunshots.

Her daughter and the others were holed up for hours while the stand-off raged, Tina Garcia said.

For hours, police had no communication with the shooter other than hearing his intermittent gunfire from inside the Colorado Springs clinic. Officers eventually moved in, shouted at the gunman and persuaded him to surrender, police said.

About five hours after the attack started, authorities led away a man wearing a white t-shirt.

With the immediate threat over, authorities swept the building and turned their attention to inspecting unspecified items the gunman left outside the building or carried inside in bags. They were concerned that he had planted improvised explosive devices meant to cause even more destruction.

Police Lieutenant Catherine Buckley said on Saturday the items were no longer a threat. She declined to elaborate.

PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News