Gunman Kills 2, Wounds 5 in Attack on Abortion Clinics
By Christopher B. Daly
The attacker, who may have been wounded by a security guard at the second clinic, then fled, managing to elude a massive manhunt by local and state police and FBI agents that included helicopters and police dogs.
Police issued a description of a white man under six feet tall with a dark complexion, dark curly hair and black jacket and pants. They said he used a semiautomatic .22-caliber rifle in the assaults on the clinics, which are about a mile apart on Beacon Street, a busy thoroughfare in this suburban community just outside Boston.
It was the third fatal shooting at clinics that perform abortions in the past 22 months. The other two occurred in Pensacola, Fla., where two doctors who performed the operations and a volunteer escort have been killed.
At a news conference on the steps of the Brookline police headquarters, Gov. William F. Weld, a Republican who supports abortion rights, denounced today's attacks and said he was making state police available to guard clinics.
"This man is nothing other than a terrorist," said Weld. "No one is going to settle moral arguments by violence in Massachusetts... . Nobody's cause was advanced today." President Clinton also condemned what he described as "domestic terrorism." He said in a statement: "Violence has no place in America. No matter where we stand on the issue of abortion, all Americans must stand together in condemning this tragic and brutal act."
Witnesses said the gunman first stormed into the Planned Parenthood clinic here shortly after 10 a.m., managing to gain access despite the fact that the door was locked and opened by buzzer. A woman who did not identify herself told the Associated Press the man was asked if he needed help.
"He asked, 'Is this Planned Parenthood?' " she said. When told it was, he pulled out a rifle and opened fire, hitting receptionist Shannon Lowney, 25, in the neck. She died at the scene. A female counselor and two male volunteer escorts in the waiting room were wounded in the barrage.
About 10 minutes later, the gunman entered the nearby Preterm Health Services clinic and stopped at a reception desk. "A man came in with a black duffel bag. He took out a rifle," a witness who would not identify himself told reporters at the scene. "He said, 'Is this Preterm?' The woman answering the phone said 'yes', and he dropped the bag and opened fire." The man shot the woman, then shot another woman standing at a nearby copying machine.
One badly shaken witness, Deborah Gaines, said the shooter never hesitated. "He was shooting everyone... ." said Gaines, adding that she would have been shot if a woman in front of her had not been struck instead.
Receptionist Leanne Nichols, 38, who was shot at least five times, died at a nearby hospital. Another woman was wounded, as was a male security guard, Richard J. Seron, 45. He told investigators he had fired four or five shots at the gunman before ducking behind a door and may have wounded the man.
Several witnesses said the man fled the clinic on foot, still firing. Others said he climbed into a small, pale-colored car parked nearby and took off. Police discovered the abandoned duffel bag and recovered rounds of unused ammunition. Late tonight, a law enforcement source said a 23-year-old Hampton, R.I., man named John Salvi was being sought, AP reported. It quoted the source as saying a handgun, some ammunition and a store receipt found in a duffel bag left at the second clinic led police to Salvi.
At first police were not certain whether one man had carried out both assaults. But after interviewing scores of witnesses, investigating officer Robert Allen said tonight, "I would say it's the same shooter."
The shootings mobilized a small army of law enforcement personnel, including Brookline and Boston police, state police, FBI agents, investigators from federal and county prosecutors and from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and others. While ambulances ferried the wounded to nearby hospitals, police launched a sweep of the neighborhood, aided by dogs and helicopters.
Both clinics, and a third located between them on Beacon Street that the gunman passed by, have been the target of regular protests by abortion opponents, who frequently say loud prayers outside and confront passersby with color enlargements of aborted fetuses. At times protesters have used militant tactics such as handcuffing themselves to automobiles to block access.
The town of Brookline, an enclave of about 65,000 residents adjoining Boston, is a generally liberal area, where many residents support abortion rights. Nevertheless, the town government has resisted paying extensive police overtime required to ensure access to the clinics.
Robin Tardo, a spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, a major nonprofit abortion provider, said the clinic would review its security procedures. "We quite often get bomb threats, death threats. The level had not changed dramatically," Tardo said.
She said all visitors must be buzzed in through a locked door, but said it was unclear whether a guard was on duty this morning. At the time of the attack, there were 30 to 40 employees and volunteers present, as well as perhaps 20 clients and escorts, Tardo said.
Natalya Kabanovsky, a technician at the Preterm building told the AP that a man fitting the description of the shooter had protested abortion over the past several months. "He was anxious," she recalled. "He wanted to tell everybody what happens here."
Abortions rights advocates demanded greater federal protection for clinics, and Attorney General Janet Reno said in Washington she would use newly expanded federal powers to pursue the assailant and prevent a recurrence. U.S. marshals have been guarding abortion clinics that have received specific threats in a dozen cities, but have not been deployed at all clinics that have received threats. They were not assigned to the two clinics attacked today.
Mainstream antiabortion leaders expressed remorse over the attacks. Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law called for a temporary halt to all antiabortion protests, and the largest antiabortion group in Massachusetts deplored the attack.
Teresa Donovan, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said members were "heartsick" and grieving for the victims. She said abortion opponents do not support violence.
By nightfall, the two clinics were decked with bouquets, and abortion rights advocates staged a candlelight vigil along Beacon Street.
Earlier this month, former Presbyterian minister Paul Hill was sentenced to the electric chair in Pensacola for killing a doctor who performed abortions and his unarmed escort. Hill, who claimed justifiable homicide, told a television interviewer two weeks ago he expected more killings would occur.
"There's no question that what I did was a relatively new concept," Hill said. "Someday it will be commonplace and generally accepted as normal."
Yesterday's shooting in Brookline, Mass., marks the fifth shooting targeting people involved with abortion clinics in the past two years. Five have died in the shootings.
* March 10: As he arrives for work, David Gunn, a 47-year-old physician with Pensacola Women's Medical Services clinic in Florida, is shot dead by antiabortion activist Michael F. Griffin. On March 5, 1994, Griffin, then 32, is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
* Aug. 19: Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon shoots physician George Tiller in Wichita, Kan., as he drives out of his clinic, wounding him in both arms. On March 25, 1994, she is convicted of attempted murder and later sentenced to a nearly 11-year prison term.
* May 26: President Clinton signs into law legislation that bars antiabortion demontrators from blocking access to clinics or threatening patients. Abortion rights supporters say there have been 3,000 reports of violence, vandalism and harassment at clinics, including bombings and death threats.
* July 29: John B. Britton, a clinic physician, and his unarmed escort, retiredAir Force Lt. Col. James Barrett, are shot and killed outside the Ladies Center in Pensacola, a clinic targeted for protests and bombings on numerous occasions in the mid-1980s. Assailant Paul Hill, 40, is convicted of the murders and sentenced Dec. 6 to die in the electric chair.
* Nov. 8: Garson Romalis, who performs abortions in Vancouver, B.C., is shot in the leg while eating breakfast at home. No arrests are made.
* Dec. 20: Survey by Feminist Majority Foundation of 819 U.S. clinics that perform at least some abortions (at 441 clinics, abortions account for half or more of visits) indicates that more than half experienced some form of violence in the first seven months of 1994.
* Yesterday: A gunman opens fire at two abortion clinics in Brookline, Mass., killing two women and wounding five other people.
SOURCES: Staff and news reports
© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post