Planned Parenthood shooting: Witness faced off with gunman at parking lot
(November 27, 2015) — A gunman who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado started firing in the parking lot — unleashing a barrage of bullets with a “cold stone face,” a witness said.
Police Officer Garrett Swasey died in the attack Friday, along with two people who have not been identified, authorities said.
The suspect surrendered about six hours after the siege started, ending a nightmare that brought life to a standstill in Colorado Springs.
Roads closed for hours as authorities warned people nearby to take cover. Terrified shoppers huddled in backrooms at a strip mall, watching tactical teams duck behind cars.
On Friday morning, police identified the suspect as Robert L. Dear, 57.
‘We stared right at each other’
Before the gunman entered the Planned Parenthood clinic, he encountered Ozy Licano in the parking lot.
It was unclear whether the clinic, which provides reproductive health care services including abortions, was the direct target.
The 61-year-old said he’d dropped off friends at the clinic when he came face-to-face with the gunman’s steely gaze.
Licano was parked in the handicap spot near the door, texting on his phone as he waited for his friends, when a man crawled up to the entrance.
The man was apparently trying to hide from the assailant, who was not far behind, Licano said.
“He (the gunman) just started shooting up the entryway … I saw him shoot up and down,” he said. “I kinda lost it there … I tried to get out of my car and run.”
But he reconsidered that decision, put his car in reverse and started backing out.
‘Cold stone face’
The gunman turned around, stepped up in front of his car and opened fire, he said.
“Five seconds we stared right at each other … and in those five seconds, bullet holes passed through my window,” he said.
“He was looking directly at my face; he was aiming at my head. I could see it in his eyes … cold stone face.”
As the bullets ripped through his windshield, he started bleeding in the mouth and face, and assumed he’d been shot. He sped out of the parking lot.
The Manzanola, Colorado, resident sought shelter at a nearby grocery store, where people tended to what turned out to be superficial wounds from shattering glass. They also called 911.
He described the gunman as an older bearded man who had on a hat with ear flaps — and hunting clothes that were not camouflage.
Licano said he didn’t know what happened to the man who crawled to the doorway, but a SWAT team rescued his friends.
Mayhem around clinic
Gunfire erupted in the clinic — and so did chaos around it.
Officers scrambled to find an opportunity to kill the gunman without harming people holed up in the clinic, according to chatter from the police scanner.
They kept a close eye on the gunman, who sometimes paced in the building. They openly discussed who had the best vantage point or appropriate weapon to take him out, the scanner showed.
At a chiropractor’s office nearby, employee Tessa Smart first saw a look of concern flash across a patient’s face. Then gunfire rang out.
“I heard a bullet go right by the door and hit something,” she said. “And I ran back to my desk and grabbed a bunch of keys and fumbled at the door trying to find one to lock it. … As I was doing that, I was seeing the police commotion outside, police running everywhere.”
Denise Speller, who works at a salon, said she heard at least 10 gunshots and saw a police officer get hit.
Bomb technicians are investigating what’s believed to be the suspect’s vehicle in a parking lot, a law enforcement official said Friday night. Authorities worked late into the night to ensure he didn’t leave explosives inside or outside the building.
Authorities are still working to pinpoint the suspect’s motive.
Slain officer was ice dancing champion
Officer Swasey, 44, worked for the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, and was on campus 10 miles away when the shooting broke out. He went to the scene to support an officer, the school’s chancellor said in a statement.
Swasey was a six-year veteran of the university’s police force. The married father of two was once a national ice dancing champion, The Denver Post reported.
Four civilians and five police officers were hospitalized with gunshot wounds, and were in good condition Friday night, police Lt. Catherine Buckley said.
“The courage they displayed today saved many, many lives — no doubt,” Colorado Springs Fire Chief Christopher Riley said.
Preliminary reports indicated the clinic’s staff was safe.
“I believe no one of our staff was severely injured. I also believe at this time that none of our patients were injured,” said Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
The University of Colorado Colorado Springs will observe a moment of silence Saturday for the fallen officer. Fellow officers held a procession for Swasey at the scene of the shooting early Saturday.
Hours under siege
Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health care and sex education to women and men nationwide. The organization runs nearly 700 health centers in the United States, according to its website.
Abortion is among the services its clinics provide, which has made them a target in the past.
The organization has been under fire in Washington and from some Republican presidential candidates after an anti-abortion group released videos alleging it sold fetal organs and parts for profit.
Planned Parenthood has disputed the videos, and contended the tapes are heavily edited and provide a distorted account.
At least three Planned Parenthood buildings have been vandalized since September.
Last year, abortion providers in the United States saw 12 incidents of vandalism, one burglary, one invasion, one arson attack, one death threat and four stalking incidents, according to the National Abortion Federation.