Man accused of killing 3 at Colorado abortion clinic said 'no more baby parts': Reports

The suspect has been identified by police as Robert Lewis Dear (above). Ambulances at the scene of the shooting. PHOTO: REUTERS
Police in Colorado Springs taking into custody a man who stormed the city's Planned Parenthood clinic and allegedly opened fire. A police officer and two civilians were killed, while nine others - among them five officers - were wounded, though none seriously, the mayor said. PHOTO: REUTERS
A police car sits in the snow outside the Planned Parenthood clinic the day after a shooting there, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. PHOTO: REUTERS

COLORADO SPRINGS (Reuters) - The man accused of opening fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and killing three people said "no more baby parts" while he was being arrested, NBC News and other media reported on Saturday (Nov 28), citing unnamed law enforcement sources.

The utterance would appear to be a reference to the controversy surrounding the organisation's health services, which include abortion, and its role in delivering fetal tissue to medical researchers.

It could hint at a possible motive for the rampage, though NBC reported that sources said investigators still did not know for certain what motivated the gunman.

The authorities have not discussed a motive for the attack at the Colorado Springs clinic, which left a police officer and two civilians dead and nine people wounded.

Federal law enforcement authorities referred questions to local police. Colorado Springs police could not be reached for comment.

Shortly after the media reports, US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch released a statement in which she condemned the shooting. "This unconscionable attack was not only a crime against the Colorado Springs community, but a crime against women receiving healthcare services at Planned Parenthood, law enforcement seeking to protect and serve, and other innocent people," she said in the statement.

The wounded included five police officers and four civilians, who were listed in good condition at area hospitals.

Mr Garrett Swasey, 44, who was killed in the attack, was a campus police officer for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who joined city police in responding to reports of shots fired at the clinic, the authorities said.

The father of two served as an elder at Hope Chapel, the church said on its website.

The suspect, identified as Robert Lewis Dear, 57, was taken into custody at the Planned Parenthood clinic and jailed ahead of a court appearance scheduled for Monday.

It was not immediately clear if Dear, who surrendered to police after a nearly five-hour stand-off, had retained an attorney.

The shooting was believed to be the first fatal attack at an abortion provider in the United States in six years, although it was not known if it was related to the clinic's abortion services. The Colorado Springs centre has been repeatedly targeted for protests by anti-abortion activists.

Planned Parenthood came under fire this year after officials of the organisation were secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group discussing how to obtain human tissue from aborted fetuses.

The videos have triggered protests over the national non-profit organisation's role in such activities and have become an issue in the 2016 presidential election race as conservatives in Congress seek to cut off Planned Parenthood's federal funding.

Planned Parenthood has strongly denied doing anything illegal or unethical. "We don't yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of this attack," said Ms Vicki Cowart, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

In recent years, Planned Parenthood moved its Colorado Springs clinic to a facility on the city's north-west side that opponents of abortion have called a "fortress".

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is based in New York and Washington.

At least eight workers at clinics providing abortions have been killed since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation, most recently in 2009 when Dr George Tiller was shot to death at church in Wichita, Kansas.

It said that clinics operated by various groups reported nearly 7,000 incidents of trespassing, vandalism, arson, death threats, and other forms of violence since 1977.

Except for his name and age, police have only said that Dear recently resided in rural Hartsel, Colorado, about 96.5km west of Colorado Springs. Official records showed that he has a history of brushes with the law.

Dear lived in a trailer parked 45.7m off the highway, sharing it with a woman who may have been his wife though she rarely left the property, according to Mr Zigmond Post Jr., who lives about 400m away.

Mr Post told Reuters that he first met Dear when a pair of dogs escaped from his property and Dear locked them in his yard. Dear was friendly when Mr Post arrived to retrieve the dogs but took the opportunity to complain about President Barack Obama.

"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," Mr Post said.

Mr Post said he did not interact with Dear again until Wednesday, when the two men exchanged pleasantries at the post office.

"We all live out here because for some reason or another we like our solitude," Mr Post said. "He seemed like a guy who wouldn't speak unless spoken to."

Mr Post said he believed the woman was still living in Dear's trailer on Saturday morning when police, Swat teams and firefighters arrived to search it. He said he heard a single gunshot from inside before they entered.

Dear appears to have moved to Hartsel from the rural Swannanoa-Black Mountain area of North Carolina last year. Records showed he purchased the Colorado property for US$6,000 in October 2014 and registered to vote as an independent.

Dear was still living in Swannanoa in July 2014, according to the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, which said he was issued a civil citation for allowing his dogs to run loose.

Dear was born in South Carolina and lived in Walterboro during the 1990s and early 2000s. He was married in 1995 to Pam Dear and records showed that he had a son, Taylor Dear.

Court records did not show any criminal convictions for Dear in South Carolina, but law enforcement officers were called on several occasions after complaints about him.

According to the Colleton County Sheriff's Office, Dear's wife accused him of assaulting her at their home in 1997, but she declined to file charges against him.

In 2002 he was accused of shooting a neighbour's dog with a pellet gun, and that same year he was arrested after being accused of hiding in the bushes at a neighbour's house and leering at her.

Court records showed he was charged with peeping to invade someone's privacy, but the charge was dismissed by a judge and a restraining order was issued against him.

The Colleton County Sheriff's Office also said that Dear had been arrested for animal cruelty in 2003. No court record was available online for that case.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.