Police identified the suspected gunman as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, but released no other information about him. He is accused of killing two people in addition to University of Colorado Police Officer Garrett Swasey, as well as injuring at least four other officers and five more civilians.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs said Swasey, 44, had been with the campus police department for six years and responded to the initial reports of an active shooter.
Authorities say Dear was armed with a long gun and also brought into the building several “items” that could have been explosive devices.
“We don’t have any information on this individual’s mentality, or his ideas or ideology,” Colorado Springs police Lt. Catherine Buckley told reporters, according to the Associated Press.
State investigators and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI are also involved in the investigation.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the situation on Friday, a White House official said. On Saturday, the president released a statement noting that the gunman’s motive remains unknown, but urging the public not to let such incidents “become normal.”
“The last thing Americans should have to do, over the holidays or any day, is comfort the families of people killed by gun violence — people who woke up in the morning and bid their loved ones goodbye with no idea it would be for the last time,” the statement said.
“And yet, two days after Thanksgiving,” the statement continued, “that’s what we are forced to do again.”
While acknowledging that investigators have more to uncover, one Planned Parenthood official suggested the incident may be rooted in the “poisonous environment” that feeds domestic terrorism.
“We don’t yet know the full circumstances and motives behind this criminal action, and we don’t yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of this attack,” Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said in a written statement. “We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country. We will never back away from providing care in a safe, supportive environment that millions of people rely on and trust.”
The shooting arrives during a period of heightened scrutiny for Planned Parenthood. In July, an anti-abortion group released a series of secretly filmed videos from a clinic in Denver that showed staffers discussing the extraction of fecal tissue from aborted fetuses before that tissue is sent to research facilities. The videos, which Planned Parenthood officials have claimed were heavily edited to bolster critics’ false claims, provoked a series of nationwide protests in August aimed at cutting off federal funding for the healthcare organization. Planned Parenthood officials said the protests were designed to intimidate and harass patients.
Health centers associated with Planned Parenthood have been the target of threats and violence because of the organization’s role in providing abortions and lobbying for reproductive rights. Abortion rights groups say threats against abortion providers rose sharply this summer in the wake of the undercover “sting” operation that produced the controversial videos.
At least four Planned Parenthood clinics have been targeted with arson since the videos were released. The increase in threats has led abortion rights groups to increase cooperation with local police and the FBI.
In a Twitter message released on Friday by Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountain, a clinic spokesman said 28 other regional health centers will remain open “no matter what.”
“We maintain strong security measures and always work closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure our very strong safety record,” the statement said.
In New York, Detective Brian Sessa said the police department had deployed response vehicles to Planned Parenthood locations throughout the city out of “an abundance of caution.” He added that there were no specific threats.
“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the brave law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm’s way in Colorado Springs,” Cecile Richards, president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We are profoundly grateful for their heroism in helping to protect all women, men and young people as they access basic health care in this country.”
© 2015, The Washington Post