Robert Lewis Dear, a 57-year-old from North Carolina, has been named as the suspected gunman behind a standoff at a Planned Parenthood health clinic in which three people died and nine were injured.
After he was named, Barack Obama said on Saturday the US had “to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them”.
“Period,” the president added, in a statement released by the White House. “Enough is enough.”
Officials speaking off the record gave the suspect’s identity to news outlets late on Friday. On Saturday morning, the city of Colorado Springs confirmed Dear’s identity and released a booking photo taken at the El Paso County criminal justice center.
Early reports portrayed Dear as a loner who lived in a rural cabin and did not noticeably discuss issues such as religion or abortion. Motive therefore remained unclear in the attack, which police said on Friday was carried out with a “long gun” – usually a reference to a rifle or shotgun.
On Saturday, Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers told reporters authorities were not ready to discuss a possible motive for the shooting, but said people could make “inferences from where it took place”.
Suthers said investigators had interviewed Dear but added wanted to learn more about him.
On Saturday, a police spokesperson said unspecified “items” left at the scene by the suspect had been “secured and and processed, and are no longer a threat”.
The crime scene perimeter around the Planned Parenthood clinic had been reduced significantly and those whose cars were parked in a grocery store parking lot nearby were able to take their cars home.
“It is still a crime scene,” said the police spokesperson, “and the area around Planned Parenthood is still closed off.”
In his statement, Obama said: “We don’t yet know what this particular gunman’s so-called motive was for shooting 12 people, or for terrorising an entire community.
“What we do know is that he killed a cop in the line of duty, along with two of the citizens that police officer was trying to protect. We know that law enforcement saved lives, as so many of them do every day, all across America. And we know that more Americans and their families had fear forced upon them.”
Planned Parenthood has, however, been at the centre of a fierce political storm – as fierce as that over the gun control measures for which Obama continues to call – over videos released by an anti-abortion group which purport to show officials discussing the sale of foetal tissue. Calls to defund the organisation have proliferated among Republicans in Congress and on the 2016 presidential campaign trail.
The organisation, which provides access to a wide range of women’s healthcare, has denied any wrongdoing by its employees.
On Friday, Planned Parenthood said all of its staff at the clinic – which is equipped with “safe rooms” and an extensive security system – were safe and that it did not know the circumstances or motives behind the attack.
However, the Illinois Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger criticised Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in the Rocky Mountains, for a statement released on Friday afternoon. In the statement, Cowart said that though the motive for the attack was not known, “extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country”.
Speaking to CNN, Kinzinger said the statement “was very premature”.
“We may find out that this person was targeting Planned Parenthood,” he said. “If we find out that he was not targeting Planned Parenthood, I would fully expect an apology from the Planned Parenthood director for saying that.”
Kinzinger also said if the gunman was targeting Planned Parenthood, “he has taken a legitimate disagreement with the practice, and turned it into an evil response, which is to go in and shoot people”.
The leading Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, expressed their support for Planned Parenthood.
As in the case of the gunman who attacked a roomful of churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina in a racially motivated attack in June, debate quickly welled up around whether to consider the Planned Parenthood gunman a “terrorist”.
According to Mashable, the wording of the Planned Parenthood statement was later changed, when a version was issued in which the phrase “domestic terrorism” was replaced with “acts of violence”.
Lynn Young, a resident of Colorado Springs, was education programme manager for Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood’s southern region from 2003 to 2007. She also worked as an employee in a Minnesota Planned Parenthood from 1977 to 1979. At that time, she told the Guardian, it was normal to receive training about security measures to be taken in the event of an attack.
In her time with Minnesota Planned Parenthood, the clinic was burned to the ground and rebuilt, then later attacked with a pipe bomb.
“You would think things would have changed,” she said, with a sigh. “But they haven’t all that much.”
Young, who moved to Colorado Springs in 1989, said there was a strong sense of community among those who did not fit the town’s typical identity: wealthy Republican evangelical.
“I’m a minority, but not an outsider,” she said. “This is my community, so I’m an insider. I share my life with neighbors who have different views than mine, and we’re deeply supportive of each other. This is my town, our town, and we chose to live here. People from the outside ask, ‘How can you live there?’ But this is our home, our community.”
In the violence on Friday, Garrett Swasey, a 44-year-old officer with the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs police, was killed. No immediate details were released about the two civilians who died. Five officers and four others were hospitalised in good condition, police said.
In his statement, Obama said: “May God bless Officer Garrett Swasey and the Americans he tried to save – and may He grant the rest of us the courage to do the same thing.”
Witnesses described a chaotic scene when the shooting started just before noon. One, Ozy Licano, was in the two-story building’s parking lot when he saw someone crawling toward the clinic’s door.
“He came out, and we looked each other in the eye, and he started aiming, and then he started shooting,” Licano said. “I saw two holes go right through my windshield as I was trying to quickly back up and he just kept shooting and I started bleeding.”
As police evacuated the clinic and put the surrounding area on lockdown, Licano took refuge at a nearby grocery store.
“He was aiming for my head,” he said. “It’s just weird to stare in the face of someone like that. And he didn’t win.”