What dark motive led the man who authorities say sieged a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic with an assault rifle and killed three people including a campus police officer? That’s a question many were scrambling to answer in the aftermath of the five-hour deadly standoff that ended with Robert Lewis Dear, 57, in police custody Friday.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, the state’s former Republican attorney general, has said that while people can make “inferences from where it took place,” Dear’s actions “certainly appear” like an act of domestic terrorism.
Similarly, Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, described the triple homicide inside the family planning clinic that conducts abortion procedures as a “form of terrorism,” and he suggested people on both sides of the abortion debate should “tone down the rhetoric.”
Over the weekend, as a portrait of the unkempt, bearded man with the wild-eyed mugshot began to emerge — he was “adrift and alienated,” he “preferred to be alone” and distributed anti-Obama pamphlets around a property that looked “like white trash living at its finest” — a narrative about one potential motive in the attack began to gel around four words: “No more baby parts.” Dear allegedly uttered this phrase, which has been attributed to unnamed law enforcement officials by multiple media outlets.
The reported remark is likely a reference to widespread debate over surreptitiously filmed videos of Planned Parenthood officials talking about the harvesting of fetal organs and tissue for science that surfaced earlier this year.
The no-more-baby-parts-as-motive narrative solidified on Sunday when the front pages of six out of 12 daily newspapers in Colorado carried the alleged quote. (As of this writing no one had yet gone on the record saying they heard Dear say it.)
News that Dear might have talked about “baby parts” first came in an NBC news report Saturday. The network sourced the alleged comments to two unnamed law enforcement sources with knowledge of the case.
On Sunday, the four words were in quotation marks on the front pages of The Longmont Times-Call, The Greeley Tribune, The Loveland Reporter-Herald, The Pueblo Chieftain, and The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. The Colorado Springs Gazette just quoted the words “baby parts” on the front page. Those six papers represent half of the dozen daily Sunday fronts available online at The Newseum.
Dear, who has a checkered criminal history in the Carolinas and whose homes in both states were adorned with crosses made of twigs or paint, apparently made several other comments while surrendering to authorities, and under questioning by police.
Here’s how NBC couched its reporting of the alleged “baby parts” remarks in the context of a potential motive:
In one statement, made after the suspect was taken in for questioning, Dear said “no more baby parts” in reference to Planned Parenthood, two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the case told NBC News.
But the sources stressed that Dear said many things to law enforcement and the extent to which the “baby parts” remark played into any decision to target the Planned Parenthood office was not yet clear. He also mentioned President Barack Obama in statements.
The Associated Press also attributed the alleged “no more baby parts” comment to an unnamed law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation. CNN, too, independently attributed the same comment to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. The Washington Post quoted an unnamed law enforcement official who also said Dear’s attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic was ‘‘definitely politically motivated.”
The AP story, published Sunday in multiple Colorado newspapers, also reports:
Planned Parenthood said late Saturday that witnesses said the gunman was motivated by his opposition to abortion.
Police, however, have not disclosed a motive for Friday’s attack during which they say Dear stormed the Colorado Springs clinic, killing three people, including a police officer, before he surrendered to authorities.
Any anti-abortion compulsion from Dear, though, might seem to come as something of a surprise to his ex-wife, who in an interview with The New York Times, had this to say about the man and abortion:
He was generally conservative, but not obsessed with politics. He kept guns around the house for personal protection and hunting, and he taught their son to hunt doves, as many Southern fathers do. He believed that abortion was wrong, but it was not something that he spoke about compulsively. “It was never really a topic of discussion,” Ms. Ross said. He did not have many close friends.
Since the time his ex-wife last saw him, anti-abortion rhetoric in America has boiled over in the wake of surreptitiously filmed videos of some Planned Parenthood officials, including one from Colorado, talking about harvesting fetal tissue samples for use in scientific research. This summer, on Aug. 22, hundreds of anti-abortion protestors demonstrated outside the Colorado Springs clinic as part of an organized nationwide event. By then the videos had gone viral, whipping up a gusty backlash in the anti-abortion movement and galvanizing social conservatives. The videos led to a Congressional effort to defund Planned Parenthood and to multiple state-level investigations into the organization.
At the time of the August protest in Colorado Springs, the local newspaper quoted one 28-year-old protestor saying, “The videos that have been released recently really made the realities of abortion such that I had to respond in action.”
Michele Mason, a local contact for the Colorado Springs branch of the anti-abortion 40 Days For Life campaign, said she has seen more people showing up since the videos surfaced. She’d never seen Dear before, she said, and his name is not in her group’s database. Her organization’s mission is one of peace, she told The Colorado Independent, adding that she urges supporters not to bring graphic signs to events. After hearing of the shooting she said she sent an e-mail to everyone on her list to pray for those inside Planned Parenthood “because we don’t want anything to happen to them.”
Asked if she’s ever been concerned about someone’s behavior since the videos came out, Mason said: “Some people have been upset but not violent. I’ve never seen anybody out there that’s been violent.”