2 Killed, 5 Wounded in Shootings at 2 Abortion Clinics : Violence: Gunman dressed in black opens fire in facilities near Boston. Extensive manhunt is launched. All the victims were employees or volunteers.
Two women were killed and five other people were wounded in nearly identical shooting attacks at two abortion clinics here Friday morning by a man clad entirely in black and wielding a .22-caliber hunting rifle.
The FBI immediately entered the case, joining local law authorities in a block-by-block search for the mysterious gunman, who may have been wounded in an exchange of gunfire with a security guard at one of the clinics. The guard was one of the injured.
Witnesses at both scenes gave similar descriptions of the gunman, and police issued a description of a single suspect--a white male of medium height with curly, dark hair. But they stopped short of saying the same man was responsible for both attacks.
State officials called it among the most extensive manhunts in Massachusetts history.
The search centered on Hampton, N.H., a coastal community just across the Massachusetts border, where investigators sought to question a 23-year-old suspect. A law enforcement source in Boston told the Associated Press that the suspect’s name is John Salvi, whose last known address was Hampton. Authorities traced the ammunition used in the shooting to an area gun store after they recovered the dark-colored duffel bag the gunman left behind when he fled the second clinic. Inside the bag was a receipt for a pistol as well as for the rifle used in the killings.
Late Friday, detectives, state police and federal agents--some wearing flak jackets--searched a home in Ipswich, Mass., a summer resort town north of Boston and not far from Hampton. Investigators were tight-lipped after leaving the house--empty-handed.
Shannon Lowney of Arlington, Mass., a 25-year-old receptionist at the Planned Parenthood Clinic of Greater Boston, died at the scene, the victim of multiple gunshot wounds.
Lowney grew up in Fairfield, Conn., and graduated magna cum laude from Boston College in 1991, her brother Liam Lowney, 22, told the AP.
“She died doing what she believed in,” Liam Lowney said. “She was committed to--and worked to provide--women the right to choose.”
Susan Newsom, vice president of Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, described Lowney as “a wonderful young woman, bright, personable and committed and what every person would want in a daughter.”
At the Preterm Health Services, farther up Beacon Street, Leanne Nichols of Salem, N.H., was sprayed with bullets. The 38-year-old receptionist died soon after at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital.
Five other victims--two women and three men, including the security guard--were in fair to critical condition late Friday at area hospitals. All of the victims were either employees or volunteers at the clinics.
Still terrified as she stood outside the Preterm clinic, Deborah Gaines said she was among half a dozen women who were standing in the clinic’s hallway when the gunman began shooting.
“He came in and started shooting anything, anyone he saw,” Gaines said. “We were just running, running as fast as we could.”
The shootings here brought to five the number of people killed in an escalation in violence at abortion clinics over the past two years. In Florida, two physicians and an abortion clinic escort were killed.
As the manhunt began, investigators said a key piece of evidence was a duffel bag found at the second clinic that was apparently used by the gunman to carry the rifle. The bag contained multiple rounds of ammunition, police said.
Detectives refused to reveal other materials found in the bag. But there were indications that its contents were helping to propel the investigation.
“There’s a lot of work going on in the streets,” one investigator said.
Natalya Kabanovsky, an electrolysis technician in Preterm’s building, said a man fitting the description of the gunman had protested abortions over the past several months. “He was anxious. He wanted to tell everybody what happens here,” she said.
Salvi, the suspect reportedly sought by authorities, was described in an AP report by Richard Griffin, his boss at a beauty salon, as “a very odd character” who proclaimed his opposition to abortion with a photo of a fetus on the back of his pickup truck.
Authorities were seeking an amateur videotape reportedly made by one of the regular protesters at the Planned Parenthood Clinic. A command post was set up at police headquarters here, where federal agents were seeking to trace purchase records for the weapon.
Nicki Gamble, president of Planned Parenthood in Massachusetts, said the clinic--which was participating in a nationwide trial of the French abortion pill RU 486--had been the target of repeated threats in recent months. Some, she said, had been “out of the ordinary.”
Clinic officials were so alarmed that earlier this month they brought their concerns over the threats and continuing protests to a meeting with U.S. Justice Department officials in Boston.
Friday began with the usual gathering of protesters outside the center, where about 3,000 abortions are performed annually. Gamble described the facility’s security as good, but added, “Clearly, it wasn’t good enough today.”
Outrage over the shootings ricocheted across the nation. At the White House, President Clinton labeled the episode “domestic terrorism” and deplored the clinic murders as “meaningless violence.” Pledging full support from the FBI, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno condemned the “senseless, horrible tragedy” of Friday’s shootings.
In an emotional statement issued late Friday, U.S. Atty. Donald Stern termed the events here Friday “a brutal, cowardly act of murder.” Grim-faced and promising stepped-up protection for clinics that request it, Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld stood outside the Preterm clinic and declared: “This man is nothing more than a terrorist. No one is going to settle moral arguments by violence in Massachusetts.”
Pamela Maraldo, president of Planned Parenthood International in New York, demanded an immediate meeting with President Clinton to discuss clinic violence. Kim Gandy, vice president of the National Organization for Women, branded Friday’s killings as proof of “a national conspiracy to commit domestic terrorism.”
Reaction came equally swiftly from those opposed to abortion. A statement from the National Right to Life Committee in Washington condemned Friday’s shootings “in the strongest possible terms.” It added, “We have always, and continue to, oppose any use of violence to fight the violence of abortion.”
Witnesses said Friday that the gunman entered the three-story, red-brick building housing the Planned Parenthood Clinic just after 10 a.m. EST. Workers at Planned Parenthood said the clinic’s door is locked and operated on a buzzer system. It was unclear how the gunman got in.
He asked if he was in the right place, then began shooting, apparently hitting Lowney first. Three others were shot in the outburst.
Edith Saltzman, a Planned Parenthood vice president, was talking to her Brookline colleagues by phone when the attack began. “I heard three cracks, a scream. (Someone) yelled, ‘Something happened!’ ” Saltzman said.
At the Preterm clinic, witnesses said the perpetrator followed the same routine. Entering the nondescript medical building where the clinic is situated, he again confirmed that he had reached his destination. Dropping his duffel bag, he removed the weapon and began firing.
“Bang! Bang! He did it just like that,” said a witness, who identified himself only as Harold.
This time a security guard quickly responded. The guard, 45-year-old Richard J. Serron, and the gunman exchanged fire. It was not known if the assailant, who fled from the clinic on foot, firing his weapon, was hit. Serron was in fair condition late Friday.
Leanne Nichols, the receptionist, was shot at least five times, and died later of her wounds. Two others, Serron and a woman, underwent surgery for chest and abdominal wounds.
Kelly Cunningham, who accompanied a friend who was to undergo an abortion that morning at the Planned Parenthood clinic, said she elbowed past “three older men who were praying and chanting” in an apparent attempt to dissuade her friend from going through with the procedure. The friend, whom she declined to name, later called Cunningham to say she was safe.
“I should never have left her,” Cunningham sobbed. “Why do they do this? Why do they let this happen?”
Brookline, a tony suburb just outside Boston and the birthplace of former President John F. Kennedy, has long been a target of anti-abortion protests because it is home to three clinics, which are all clustered on one main avenue.
For years, a local anti-abortion group called the Pro-Life Action Network, a local affiliate of Operation Rescue, has focused its protests on the Brookline clinics, conducting clinic blockades and other demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience.
Buses frequently deposit protesters, said several people who act as clinic escorts. In past years the Brookline clinics have been the scene of highly orchestrated disruptions, including several incidents in which abortion opponents chained themselves to the clinics, beseeching those seeking abortions to reconsider their decisions.
Bill Cotter, head of the local group, spent 19 months in jail for violating state court injunctions against blocking access to the clinics.
The protests at the Brookline clinics were the subject of a 1991 book “Caught in the Crossfire” by University of New Hampshire journalism teacher Sue Hertz. She said in an interview Friday that there had been numerous threats of violence against the clinics, including bomb and death threats. But she said that, apart from pushing and shoving at clinic blockades, there had not been serious violence before.
In an interview Friday, Cotter condemned the violence and denied any involvement in the shootings by anyone affiliated with his organization. Cotter said that he had been asked by police to come in for questioning Friday, but stressed that he was not a suspect. He said police were searching for leads, and were trying to learn if any of the local protesters who are regularly stationed outside the clinics, sometimes carrying video cameras, had seen anything.
The attacks Friday fall under the new federal law protecting abortion clinics and patients from violence and harassment.
Women’s groups and abortion rights supporters called on the government to enforce the law.
“We cannot wait for the next mass murder. To date, there has been no arrest under the new federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act for death threats, although almost 25% of clinics are experiencing such threats,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
The National Abortion Federation and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, supported by an anonymous donor, offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone involved in the slayings.
In March, 1993, a doctor was shot and killed outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic. Michael Griffin is serving a life sentence for that slaying.
In July, a doctor and his bodyguard were shot to death outside another Pensacola clinic. The gunman, Paul J. Hill, 40, has been sentenced to die in the electric chair.
A doctor was shot and wounded last year at a clinic in Wichita, Kan., and there have been fire-bombings and other vandalism at clinics around the country, including a 1993 blaze in Bakersfield that did $1.4 million in damage.
The terror in Brookline came as residents were preparing for a weekend of New Year’s revelry. With the suspect still at large, the level of concern was so high that Boston Mayor James Menino urged residents not to let their fears interfere with the festivities of First Night, Boston’s traditional citywide New Year’s celebration.
Expressing horror at the shootings in his home community, Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law asked that clinic protests be suspended.
But the pair of anti-abortion protesters who kept watch on Beacon Street, outside the Planned Parenthood clinic, seemed unlikely to leave their posts. The two women stood silently, refusing to speak to anyone. A neighborhood resident said they were fixtures among the abortion opponents who regularly converge outside a group of abortion clinics here.
Cunningham, who said she had accompanied several friends to the Planned Parenthood Clinic, said the protesters who arrive by the busload were a constant, disturbing presence.
“These moralistic people stand here, harassing people,” she said. “They’re out here all the time, praying. Praying for what?”
By nightfall, below-freezing temperatures failed to slow the steady flow of mourners who gathered outside the two clinics. Some left flowers--grand bouquets, or simple sprays of daisies--on the steps. Many wept openly, and leaned on one another for support. Outside the Planned Parenthood clinic, about 300 people attended a candlelight vigil.
“It makes no sense for people who are anti-abortion to be murdering,” said lawyer Donna Turley.
The Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, wearing her ecclesiastical collar, sadly surveyed the scene.
“We’re horrified and appalled,” she said, “particularly that so much of this violence is done by people who purport to be acting in the name of God.”
In a voice choked with tears, a young woman declined to give her name, saying she was too upset, and too afraid.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” she said. “It all just breaks my heart.”
Times staff writer James Risen in Washington and researcher D’Jamila Salem in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
A gunman opened fire on staff and volunteers at two Brookline, Mass., abortion clinics Friday, killing at least two and wounding many others. Here are other recent incidents of abortion-related violence:
Nov. 8, 1994--Dr. Garson Romalis, who performs abortions in Vancouver, Canada, shot in the leg while eating breakfast at home. No arrests.
July 29, 1994--Dr. John Bayard Britton and his bodyguard, James H. Barrett, slain outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic. Paul J. Hill, 40, a former minister and anti-abortion activist, convicted of state murder charges and sentenced to death. In separate federal trial, Hill was sentenced to life without parole for violation of new clinic-protection law.
Aug. 19, 1993--Dr. George Tiller shot in both arms as he drove out of his Wichita, Kan., clinic’s parking lot. Rachelle (Shelley) Shannon convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
March 10, 1993--Dr. David Gunn shot to death outside a Pensacola clinic. First U.S. doctor killed during an anti-abortion demonstration. Michael Griffin is convicted and is serving a life sentence.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.