COLORADO SPRINGS — The gunman suspected of storming a Planned Parenthood clinic and killing a police officer and two others used the phrase “no more baby parts’’ to explain his actions, according to a law enforcement official, a comment likely to further inflame the heated rhetoric surrounding abortion.
The attack on the clinic, allegedly by Robert Lewis Dear Jr., was “definitely politically motivated,’’ said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is still underway. NBC News, which first reported the comment, said that Dear also mentioned President Obama in a range of statements to investigators that left his precise motivation unclear.
Yet even as authorities released few details about Friday’s shootings, the politics of the highly charged abortion issue seemed to outstrip their efforts to be methodical. Antiabortion activists denied any knowledge of Dear and said he is not affiliated with their movement, but abortion rights advocates countered that comments by conservatives against Planned Parenthood had precipitated the violence.
Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, cited “eyewitness accounts” in asserting that Dear “was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion.”
“We’ve seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months,” she said in a statement. “That environment breeds acts of violence.”
In an interview, she said that the waiting room at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic was bustling at midday Friday when a shot rang out. A medical assistant immediately recognized the sound and moved everyone to the back of the building, behind a locked door that separates the lobby from exam rooms, Cowart said, relating what staff members had told her.
Once there, everyone scattered into rooms that also had locks and, following their training, turned their phones to silent to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Most of the people in the clinic waited out the five-hour ordeal in these locked rooms, Cowart said.
Staff workers undergo regular training and drills for emergencies, such as an armed attack. But other than that, she said, there were no dedicated “safe rooms” or special security measures in place.
“It’s built as a health center that has comfortable rooms for patients and good flow for efficiency,” Cowart said.
Video cameras are mounted in various spots inside and outside the building, and police were able to monitor the shooter by watching the live feed, she said.
The clinic is in a one-floor, stand-alone building owned by Planned Parenthood, where staff provide services primarily to women: birth control counseling; STD and HIV testing; breast exams; and abortions, both surgical and via medication. All of these services were available Friday, when about 30 people had signed up for appointments and others came in as walk-ins or to pick up prescriptions.
Planned Parenthood has been at the center of a political storm as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up. Republican candidates have denounced the organization, especially after an antiabortion group released a series of surreptitiously filmed videos in which Planned Parenthood officials discussed the techniques and financial aspects of harvesting fetal-tissue samples for scientific research.
The videos were edited in misleading ways, Planned Parenthood has said.
Dear, 57, is accused of fatally shooting University of Colorado police officer Garrett Swasey and two as-yet-unnamed civilians in the attack on the Colorado Springs clinic. At least four other officers and five civilians were also injured. Officials said Saturday that the injured victims were expected to recover.
Dear, who moved to Colorado last year, was described by people who know him as a malcontent and drifter who has had numerous run-ins with the law. He is being held without bond and is scheduled to appear in court Monday, local media reported.
Dear is expected to first face state charges and then federal charges, said the law enforcement official. It was unclear Saturday whether an attorney for Dear had been appointed.
Authorities said Dear was armed with what they described as a long gun and had also walked into the clinic with several unspecified items that could have been explosives.
Obama, in his first reaction to the shootings, issued a refrain for more gun-control measures, which has become a familiar ritual after mass shootings.
But unlike after other incidents — such as June’s shooting deaths of nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. — Obama limited his remarks to a written statement. Regardless of the motive, he said, the frequency of mass killings in the United States is unacceptable.
“This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal,” the president said. “If we truly care about this . . . 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. Period. Enough is enough.”
On the Republican campaign trail, presidential candidates who in the past have criticized Planned Parenthood avoided comment. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich referred to the shootings, but neither mentioned the organization.
All three leading Democratic candidates issued statements supporting Planned Parenthood, and they were joined by others in the abortion rights community who condemned the criticism of the organization and said it led to the shootings.
Antiabortion groups were quick to denounce the shooting and distance themselves from Dear, with numerous activists saying they have never interacted with or heard of him. Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a controversial group that tracks abortion clinics and posts information about abortion doctors on its Web site, said he immediately entered Dear’s name into his membership database and came up empty.
“One thing we do know is the guy is a very dangerous, unstable individual who desired to kill people, and that is not in any way what the pro-life movement stands for,” Newman said.
The law enforcement response to the shootings also came under scrutiny on Saturday because authorities had engaged in a five-hour standoff with the shooter. The first call for help came in to the Colorado Springs Emergency Communications Center about 11:38 a.m. authorities said, with numerous officers and agents deploying to the scene.
Dear was taken into custody at 4:52 p.m. At least once during the intervening hours, officials said the shooter had been contained, then appeared to reverse themselves.
But Jim Davis, who formerly headed the FBI’s Denver division and served as executive director of Colorado’s Public Safety Department, said the response “went exactly as planned” and reflected what was learned from the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Two students killed 12 fellow students, a teacher and themselves in that incident, and authorities were later criticized for waiting too long to intervene.
“The lesson from Columbine is we can’t wait for communications to be set up, can’t wait for a tactical team to arrive, so police are trained to just go to the sound of the gunfire,’’ Davis said.
Lowery and Markon reported from Washington. Paquette reported from Colorado Springs. Sandhya Somashekhar, Peter Holley, Jennifer Jenkins, Alice Crites and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.