By Jacob Solis
Editor’s Note: THE WHOLE STORY will be an occasional feature where The Nevada Sagebrush takes a comprehensive look at a story, be it local, national or otherwise, that developed quickly — often too quickly — causing some details to remain hazy to those of us not glued to the newswires. All the facts, from what we know to how we know it to what we don’t know, will be in one place.
A quiet Friday afternoon in Colorado Springs, Colorado was broken by the sound of gunfire as a lone gunman opened fire on a local Planned Parenthood. At the end of the day, the assault left three people dead and nine wounded.
Some have called it simply a mass shooting, others have called it terrorism, but almost universally, people have called the shooting a tragedy.
But how did it happen and why? Here are the facts so far:
WHAT WE KNOW
On Friday afternoon, a shooter now identified as Robert Lewis Dear Jr. stormed into a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic with what has been described by police as “a long gun.” Wearing a long coat and “hunting-type hat,” according to the Colorado Springs Gazette, he let off at least 10-20 shots per witness reports.
A police spokesman called the shooter “contained” at 12:54 p.m. Thirty minutes later, the police retracted that statement. The gunman would remain active until just before 5 p.m., when he exchanged gunfire with police. While he was detained shortly after, the scene remained open for hours as police checked items Dear had left at the scene that were thought to be explosives. These items later turned out to be harmless.
At the end of the day, three people lay dead, including one police officer. Nine people left the scene wounded, five of whom were also police officers. Since the shooting, vigils have been held for the victims, who have since been identified.
HOW WE KNOW IT
As is the case in mass shootings, the details came fast and were often vague. Police officers gave briefings in the falling snow that revealed little information, as, especially at the start of the shooting, the police were largely in the dark. An hour after they had arrived on the scene, a police spokeswoman, Lt. Catherine Buckley, noted that they did not know how many shooters there were, whether the shooters were contained, how many victims there were or whether or not there was an active hostage situation.
Even after these questions and more had been answered by police, they were hesitant to inform the media. The shooter’s name was only released after it had been leaked to several news outlets.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Police have not revealed Dear’s motive, though he reportedly mentioned “baby parts” to police. The insinuation of baby parts has prompted speculation everywhere from social media to Capitol Hill that the rhetoric used by anti-abortion activists in the past few months fueled the shooting.
In July of this year, a group known as the Center for Medical Progress released a series of videos that allegedly show Planned Parenthood illegally selling fetal tissue, often referred to as “baby parts” by activists, obtained through abortion. Planned Parenthood was quick to deny these allegations, but the videos have become a rallying cry for anti-abortion politicians.
Republican presidential candidates, notably former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, seized on the videos, going so far as to say that Planned Parenthood was “butchering babies for body parts” in October. Fiorina had previously said that the videos showed doctors talking about keeping a fetus alive so that they might “harvest its brain,” during the second Republican primary debate in September.
These claims have since been refuted by Planned Parenthood, and independent experts were unable to find the scene Fiorina described during the debate.
For Planned Parenthood and activists who support the group, these claims are the inherent problem.
“I think it’s important to recognize that words matter,” said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in a Monday-morning interview with NPR. “When you use this kind of hateful rhetoric, whether you’re a politician or whether you’re in elected office, or whether you’re an opposition group, this kind of rhetoric towards doctors and women seeking health care has real impacts.”
In terms of public policy, some Democrats in Washington were quick to renew calls for comprehensive gun control legislation. President Barack Obama released a statement on Saturday condemning the shooting, saying that comforting the families of victims of gun violence was “[the] last thing Americans should have to do.”
“This is not normal,” the statement read. “We can’t let it become normal. If we truly care about this — if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them.”
In contrast, some politicians and advocates attacked the rhetoric being used by anti-abortion activists in recent months. On Monday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called on Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to disband a special committee tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood.
“[We] should not and cannot continue this politically motivated committee targeting Planned Parenthood, which is already costing taxpayers and helping to create a dangerous climate for legal health care in America,” Boxer wrote in her letter to Ryan.
Ryan has not issued a statement on the shooting itself, though The New York Times reported that a Ryan spokesman said on Sunday that the shooting “will not change the investigating committee’s plans.” The chair of that committee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., pushed back against Boxer and the left, accusing Democrats of “playing politics with this tragedy.”
Coupled with the recent fervor on the right to curtail funding for Planned Parenthood and organizations like it, the fight over Planned Parenthood looks likely to continue into the future. In any case, Dear’s motives remain unknown.
Jacob Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.