A 51-year-old Kansas man was charged with first-degree murder late Sunday in the death of a physician whose Kansas women’s clinic frequently took center stage in the U.S. debate over abortion, authorities said.
Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed while serving as an usher at his Wichita church Sunday morning, according to police. Tiller was one of the few U.S. physicians who still performed late-term abortions and had survived a 1993 shooting outside his clinic. Scott Roeder from the Kansas City, Kansas, area is being held without bond in the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Facility, according to the sheriff’s office Web site. In addition to murder, he was charged with two counts of aggravated assault. Roeder is expected to appear in court early this week, law enforcement officials said. The attack drew condemnation from Tiller supporters, from some of those who tried to shut down his practice and from President Obama, who had urged Americans to seek “common ground” on the divisive issue just two weeks ago. “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. The shooting prompted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to direct federal marshals to “offer protection to other appropriate people and facilities around the nation,” according to a statement from the Department of Justice. Watch panel discuss ramifications of slaying
Dr. George Tiller slain while ushering in church
Tiller kept rigorous security
Tiller was killed shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday. Police found him lying dead in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church, where he had been serving as an usher. Witnesses provided a description of the gunman’s car and a license plate number, said Wichita police spokesman Gordon Bassham. Police stopped a blue Ford Taurus matching the description about three hours later in Gardner, about 30 miles southwest of Kansas City, and arrested the driver. “We think we have the right person arrested,” said Wichita police Detective Tom Stoltz. “We will investigate this suspect to the Nth degree — his history, his family, his associates — and we are just in the beginning stages of that.” See what people are saying about Tiller’s slaying » Though the investigation is still under way, he said, “At this time we feel this is an act of an isolated individual.” Tiller had practiced medicine for nearly 40 years, said Peter Brownlie, president of the Kansas City-based regional Planned Parenthood office. The doctor and his staff had been picketed for years, with some activists distributing leaflets around his neighborhood, Brownlie said. His clinic suffered serious damage from a bomb in the mid-1990s, and he was shot through both arms in 1993 by an anti-abortion activist who is now in federal prison. Watch Tiller describe the philosophy of his clinic in 1999 » In a written statement issued through Tiller’s lawyers, his family — his wife, four children and 10 grandchildren — said their loss “is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America.” No motive for the killing was immediately known. If Tiller’s killing stemmed from his work, he would be the fourth U.S. physician killed over abortion since 1993. Leading anti-abortion groups condemned his shooting, emphasizing that they wanted to shut down Tiller’s practice by legal means. During the 1990s, three doctors who performed abortions were slain in high-profile cases. In 1998, a sniper killed Dr. Barnett Slepian in his Amherst, New York, home. Anti-abortion activist James Kopp was later arrested in France and is serving life in prison. In 1994, Dr. John Bayard Britton and a volunteer escort were shot and killed outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Paul Hill, a former minister, was convicted in the killings and executed in 2003. And in 1993, another doctor, David Gunn, was shot to death outside another Pensacola clinic. His killer, Michael Griffin, is serving a life sentence.
In addition, a nurse at a Birmingham, Alabama, clinic was maimed and an off-duty police officer was killed in a 1998 bombing by Eric Rudolph, who included abortion among his list of anti-government grievances. Rudolph admitted to that attack and three other bombings — including the 1996 attack on the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia — and is serving life in prison.