Suspect in Colorado shootings a 'loner'

Neighbours say they barely knew the man as police look to uncover motive for killings

Robert Dear Jr's rambling remarks after his arrest made it difficult for the authorities to work out his motives.
Robert Dear Jr's rambling remarks after his arrest made it difficult for the authorities to work out his motives.

HARTSEL (Colorado) • Robert Dear Jr was a man who lived off the grid.

On this lonely, snow-covered patch of land in a hamlet ringed by the Rocky Mountains, his home was a white trailer, with a forest-green four-wheeler by the front door, and a modest black cross painted on one end.

As police officers surrounded it on Saturday - looking for clues to what they said had sent its owner on a shooting rampage at a family planning clinic that left three dead, including a police officer, and nine wounded - neighbours said they barely knew him, beyond one man's memory of him handing out anti-Obama political pamphlets.

Mr Van Wands, 58, whose wife owns a local saloon, said there were two types of people in the area - the old-timers, who put effort into getting to know their neighbours, and newcomers, who wished for solitude. Dear, he said, fell solidly into the second category.

"That'd be one that preferred to be left alone," he said.

A day after the shooting, a portrait emerged of a man with a sporadic record of brushes with the law, neighbours and relatives.

In 1997, his wife at the time reported to police that he had locked her out of her home, and pushed her out of a window when she tried to climb back in. In 2002, he was arrested after a neighbour complained he had hidden in the bushes and tried to peer into her house. An online personal advertisement, believed to be posted by Dear, sought partners for sadomasochistic sex.

With Colorado Springs residents telling chilling tales of hours spent hiding in stores near the shoot-out on Friday, the authorities shed no light publicly on whether they believed Dear, 57, had delibe-rately targeted the Planned Parenthood centre.

But one senior law enforcement official, who would speak only anonymously about an ongoing investigation, said after Dear was arrested, he said "no more baby parts" in a rambling interview with the authorities.

The official said Dear "said a lot of things" during his interview, making it difficult for the authorities to pinpoint a specific motivation.

In Washington, US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch, in a statement, said the shooting 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.

"It was also an assault on the rule of law, and an attack on all Americans' right to safety and security."

Senior Justice Department officials were looking into whether to move forward with a federal case.

Along with examining whether Dear could be charged with a hate crime, officials were exploring whether he might have violated federal laws intended to protect abortion clinics. In 1994, then President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it a crime to use physical force against patients and clinic employees.

Dear, who surrendered to police on Friday evening, remained in custody without bond at the El Paso County criminal justice centre.

Dear entered the Planned Parenthood building before noon earlier that day and started shooting from a window.

Several people managed to flee from the building and run out into the street, while others hid in the sanctuary of a clinic safe room. Police said 24 people, who at one point were held hostage, were evacuated unharmed.

The motive for the United State's latest deadly shooting is not yet known, but Planned Parenthood has been attacked before by people fiercely opposed to abortion.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the fact that the clinic performed abortions - a highly divisive issue in the US - may have had something to do with it.

Planned Parenthood is a major provider of women's health services, offering preventive check-ups, contraceptives and abortions at its 700 clinics around the US.

The organisation has often been the target of demonstrations, and even violence, by anti-abortion activists.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2015, with the headline 'Suspect in Colorado shootings a 'loner''. Print Edition | Subscribe