The man accused of opening fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was due for his first appearance in court Monday, as speculation continued to mount over what motivated the attack and how authorities would prosecute the suspect.
Robert Lewis Dear, 57, is accused of killing a police officer and two civilians who were accompanying separate friends to the clinic. The rampage touched off an hourslong standoff and shootout Friday that also left nine other people in the hospital. Dear’s court appearance will be done by video Monday afternoon in Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs police on Sunday said they would not disclose any information on the motive for the attack, guaranteeing further speculation.
Dear has been described by acquaintances as a reclusive loner.
A law enforcement official said Dear told authorities “no more baby parts” after being arrested, part of a rambling statement that investigators are parsing to understand the reasoning.
The law enforcement official who recounted Dear’s statement spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation. The official said the “no more baby parts” comment was among a number of statements he made to authorities after his arrest, making it difficult to know his specific motivation.
Still, U.S. Attorney John Walsh said investigators have been in touch with lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights and National Security divisions, suggesting officials could pursue federal charges in addition to state homicide ones. One possible avenue is the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it a crime to injure or intimidate clinic patients and employees.
“The case may fit the criteria for a federal domestic terrorism case, but based on my experience, I would be very surprised if this is not simply a local prosecution,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general. “Murder charges will be more than adequate on the local level.”
Planned Parenthood said witnesses said the gunman was motivated by his opposition to abortion. Suthers said it’s unclear whether the shooting was intended to send an ideological message.
“That may or may not be the case here, we just have to see how things unravel,” Suthers said.
Whatever authorities decide is sure to be controversial, given the political murkiness of Dear’s statements and the debate over Planned Parenthood, which was reignited in July when anti-abortion activists released undercover video they said showed the group’s personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs.
Planned Parenthood has said that Colorado’s 19 other clinics would be open for business Monday. The Colorado Springs clinic, though, has been heavily damaged and will be closed for an uncertain amount of time, said Vicki Cowart, the regional head of Planned Parenthood.