COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The nightmare at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic is over. Now comes the time to sort through the sad, sordid, alarming aftermath.
Three people were shot dead Friday, including university police Officer Garrett Swasey, whose body was escorted out early Saturday morning by his fellow officers. Five officers and four civilians are hospitalized in good condition, according to city police Lt. Catherine Buckley, after the assault.
And then there’s the challenge of making sense of all this bloodshed: Why, on the day after Thanksgiving, would a man walk up to a clinic with his guns out and then hold out for hours before finally surrendering?
Planned Parenthood, which delivers reproductive health care and sex education to women and men across the United States, has come under attack before. But the group has said that it didn’t know anything about this facility being “targeted deliberately.”
“Our hearts break together,” Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains President Vicki Cowart told those gathered Saturday at a service in a Colorado Springs church.
“We have so many questions. We don’t know yet why this happened.”
And authorities have not outlined a motive in Friday’s incident that had those in the clinic huddling in horror and others hunkering down in fear in nearby stores and offices.
They have, however, identified the man they say is responsible: 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear.
Dear — whose last known address is in the rural community of Hartsel, about 65 miles west of the clinic — was being held without bail Saturday in a Colorado Springs jail, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office website. He is scheduled to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Monday in front of Chief Judge Gil Martinez, county court spokesman Rob McCallum said.
‘He was aiming at my head’
After noticing a man crawling toward the entrance, Ozy Licano caught sight of the shooter wearing a hat with ear flaps and hunting clothes.
“He just started shooting up the entryway,” recalled Licano, who was sitting in his car. “I saw him shoot up and down.”
Deciding against his first instinct to get out and run, the 61-year-old Manzalo, Colorado, resident put his car in reverse and backed up. That’s when he looked into the gunman’s eyes for five seconds, “and in those five seconds, (bullets) passed through my window.”
“He was looking directly at my face; he was aiming at my head,” Licano said. “I could see it in his eyes. … (A) cold, stone face.”
Licano made it to a nearby grocery store, where people tended to his superficial wounds from the shattered glass and called 911. Others wounded made it to a bank.
And many more stayed put nearby, listening to gun shots ring out and watching police converge on the scene.
Jill Lavelle recalled “seeing … SWAT members squatting (with) their shields and their riot gear, with their automatic rifles out.” Denise Speller, who works at a salon in the area, heard at least 10 gunshots and saw a police officer get hit by one of them.
“It was terrifying,” she said.
Scanners capture police plans
Despite initial fears that the gunman might be running around outside, authorities later determined that he was inside the Planned Parenthood building — once he got through the front door — throughout the siege, Buckley said.
Joan Motolinia’s sister was among those inside with him. She called her brother Friday afternoon, and “I heard the shooting,” a tearful Motolinia said.
“She couldn’t say much because she was afraid,” he said.
Meanwhile, police worked relentlessly to figure out two main things: how to stop the gunman and, even before that, how to evacuate those stuck in the clinic, like Motolinia’s sister.
Conversations captured over the police scanner gave glimpses into the drama as well as the strategic debate about what to do. The officers talked about what they saw on the ground, through windows and via video, including whether there was a clear way (without harming anyone else) to take out the gunman.
About six hours in, officers established communications with the suspect after shouting out to him.
“He’s going to come out with his hands up,” one voice said over the scanner.
A short time later, another added, “We have our suspect right now. He’s saying that he is a loner; he’s by himself.”
Somehow after all of it, Cowart said, none of the 15 Planned Parenthood workers on site that day was injured.
The credit for that can go to responding police like Swasey, a married father of two who’d been with the University of Colorado Colorado Springs police force for six years and who was once a national ice dancing champion, The Denver Post reported.
“The courage they displayed today saved many, many lives — no doubt,” Colorado Springs Fire Chief Christopher Riley said.
Speculation immediately swirled that Planned Parenthood was targeted because one of the services it provides is abortion.
At least three Planned Parenthood buildings have been vandalized since September, when the organization was criticized in Washington and by some Republican presidential candidates after an anti-abortion group released videos alleging that it sold fetal organs and parts for profit. Planned Parenthood has disputed the veracity of the videos, contending that they are heavily edited and provide a distorted account.
In a statement Saturday, President Barack Obama didn’t mention the controversies surrounding Planned Parenthood. But he did offer praise to Swasey, condolences to the families of the two other victims and condemnation of the attack as another example of gun violence.
“The last thing Americans should have to do, over the holidays or any day, is comfort the families of people killed by gun violence — people who woke up in the morning and bid their loved ones goodbye with no idea it would for the last time,” Obama said. “And yet, two days after Thanksgiving, that’s what we are forced to do again.”
As he has time and again after mass shootings, the President called on policymakers to do something to prevent them.
“This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal,” he said. “If we truly care about this — 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 yielding them.
“Period. Enough is enough.”