The man in this picture is Officer Garrett Swasey, and he was killed yesterday by a gunman who stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, resulting in a hostage situation and a standoff with the police that lasted hours. Officer Swasey was 44 years old and, as you can see, he had a kind face. Two citizens were also killed (as I write this, their names have not yet been released). Nine people were wounded; four police and five civilians.
For my non-U.S. readers, Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization providing low cost reproductive health services, mainly for women. It is partially funded by the government. It is also an abortion provider, although abortions comprise only 2-3% of Planned Parenthood's services (and are not funded by the government). Abortion is legal in the United States, however there is a segment of our population that believes it should be outlawed, and even some that go so far as believing birth control is a form of abortion. A few of these people feel so strongly about it, they attack Planned Parenthood clinics around the country. Some of these attacks take the form of arson or vandalism or bomb threats. Some of these attacks are deadly. This is the fourth attack on a Planned Parenthood in the last few months. It is still not clear if this shooter's agenda was in line with other Planned Parenthood attackers.
Yesterday was "Black Friday", the day after Thanksgiving when those who can tolerate the crowds and the din make their way to the big box stores and malls, in search of Christmas gifts at deeply discounted prices. Day Two of the four day Thanksgiving weekend. It was cold and snowing, but plenty of people were out and about. The madness started a little before noon. Planned Parenthood sits behind a King Soopers -- the King Soopers where we bought our Thanksgiving turkey just four days ago, actually. There are a number of small businesses in the same strip mall: a Japanese restaurant, a bank, a liquor store. Everyone in all of these businesses, as well as the surrounding homes and office buildings, was put in danger in the blink of an eye. Hundreds of people. Little did they know that they would be trapped in place until well after 7:00pm, hiding from a madman. At first the description was that there was a shooter at large and citizens were on a "shelter in place" notice, then three police officers were shot, then it became clear that the gunman was inside the Planned Parenthood and had taken hostages. My friends frantically posted on Facebook, "Stay away from Centennial and Fillmore!" And we all stayed glued to the TV and internet, feverishly updating Facebook and Twitter with whatever information we could glean. The gun battle wore on sporadically all day, with a fourth police officer wounded sometime during the afternoon. Finally, after six agonizing hours, the gunman was apprehended. My friend Isaiah, shooting for Reuters, got a photo of the arrest. You can see it HERE on the NY Times website. The gunman looks very tall but very average to me. Like any guy you'd see on the street.
It has not yet been disclosed what his motive was. It seems to me that he was a sharpshooter and at least somewhat tactically trained, to be able to shoot all those people and evade the police and SWAT for hours. I have heard that he was using an AK-47. I listened to the police radio live feed all day, eavesdropping on law enforcement as they strategized their way through the situation. It was mesmerizing and terrifying, hearing it from the mouths of the agents who were actually inside the building, hunting a madman. One of the disembodied voices described some duffel bags that the gunman was carrying, speculating about the contents. Could they be bombs? The assumption was made by another disembodied voice that they might be IEDs, homemade bombs. Be careful, the voice said.
This is what I spent yesterday doing. Listening to police chatter, watching KKTV's Don Ward and Dianne Derby repeat the same information for hours on end. It was eerily similar to how I spent September 11, 2001. Sitting on the couch in this same room, watching surreal events unfold on the TV in front of me.
I have a lot of praise for our first responders. There were over a hundred police deployed, as well as the Fire Department, the El Paso County Sheriff's Department, and what looked like a thousand ambulances lined up on the curb. Everyone handled the situation professionally and calmly. They did so well. And they got the bad guy. I'm sure that in the coming days, we'll hear more about what motivated this man, this terrorist, to perform these atrocities. And oh yes, people have already taken sides on social media. They've twisted his agenda to suit their own agenda, shouting their opinions in all caps. As for me, I just want to repost this picture that my friend Bill took last week. You saw it here on the blog on Monday. We appreciate your thoughts as Colorado Springs recovers from yet another mass shooting, exactly 27 days after the last one.