On a bitterly cold and snowy Black Friday, a loner from Hartsel armed with an AK-47 staged a bloody and prolonged standoff with police at the Planned Parenthood facility, wounding nine people, including five police officers, and killing three: 44-year-old Garrett Swasey, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus security officer and father of two; 35-year-old Jennifer Markovsky, who media have identified as the mother of two children; and Iraq War veteran Ke'Arre Marcell Stewart, 29, a father of two.
Robert Lewis Dear, 57, bearded and deranged-looking, surrendered to police just before 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27, at which time he reportedly said, "No more baby parts," according to several national news agencies, which have also reported that Dear has a criminal history in North and South Carolina, including charges of animal cruelty and domestic violence.
Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-gun-violence group, reports on its website that more than one in three perpetrators of mass shootings — defined by the FBI as incidents of four or more firearm homicide fatalities, not including the shooter — had a prior history of felonies, domestic violence, or mental illness that prohibited him from buying or possessing guns.
The group's research also shows that states that require background checks for all handgun sales reported 52 percent fewer mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2015.
Several anti-abortion groups have denounced the shooting. Columbus, Ohio-based Created Equal said, "Opposition to abortion never justifies vigilante justice." And National Right to Life, Washington, D.C., said in a statement it "unequivocally condemns unlawful activities and acts of violence regardless of motivation. The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal."
But Irene Luckett has observed provocative demonstrations outside the Springs Planned Parenthood by Catholic and other pro-life organizations. She lives a half-mile from the clinic and last year decided to counter their message with a pro-choice position, which often puts her in contact with pro-life forces outside the clinic.
Forty Days for Life, a Catholic group, appears twice a year for six weeks during daylight hours on street corners outside the clinic, she says. "They hold prayer vigils, yell at people and the usual stuff they do," she says. One time, a pro-lifer followed her; the more she tried to ignore him, the more aggressive he became, she says. Other pro-choice demonstrators have called police because of what they consider overt intimidation and threats, she says, and Luckett has taken to wearing a "referee whistle" around her neck. "Every time they tried to talk to me, I blew the whistle," she says, later adding via email, "I've been called Satan, the Devil, baby murder[er], killer, bitch, and c*nt by one man from 40 Days."
Luckett says on Sept. 25, the Catholic group posted a large pink banner on the Centennial Boulevard sidewalk near the clinic stating, "Planned Parenthood sells baby parts" with an image of a baby divided up into pieces, a message obviously inspired by videos that went public this summer of Planned Parenthood leaders discussing use of fetal tissue for research, which has since been widely debunked.
Asked if she thinks the sign triggered Dear's reaction, she says it's possible.
But the Most Reverend Michael Sheridan, Catholic Bishop of Colorado Springs who's appeared at 40 Days for Life rallies, issued a statement labeling the shooting "an act of pure evil," and noting there is "absolutely no excuse for this senseless act of violence."
On Monday, Dear was told by District Judge Gilbert Martinez he could face first-degree murder charges for which the punishment is either life in prison or death. Appearing with Dear was Dan King from the state public defender's office. King represented Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, who killed 12 people in 2012 but recently escaped the death penalty when a jury sentenced him to life in prison instead.
What's more, federal law enforcement officials issued statements after the shooting, which has raised speculation that Dear might be charged with federal offenses, such as charges related to terrorism.
Noting he'd been in contact with local authorities, U.S. Attorney John Walsh in Denver said in a statement Saturday night that he also had been "in close contact" with the National Security Division and Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. "The federal investigation is ongoing and focused," Walsh said.
About an hour later, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch released a statement calling the attack a crime against the community and women receiving health care services, and "an assault on the rule of law."
"We stand ready to offer any and all assistance to the District Attorney and state and local law enforcement as they move forward with their investigation," she added.
Although Walsh's spokesman, Jeff Dorschner, says via email it's too early to speculate on federal charges, NBC News has reported possible federal charges include violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) passed in 1994; violations that lead to death carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. Another is violating a statute that bars interfering with programs that receive federal funds, for which the maximum sentence is death.