COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - The moment a receptionist heard gunfire and an “intruder” burst into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, the well-drilled staff immediately activated lockdown procedures, the organization’s local president said on Saturday.
None of more than a dozen employees who were working throughout the building were hurt in Friday’s attack, which left three people including a police officer dead. Nine people, including five other police officers, were wounded.
Staff at the center, which has in the past been the target of anti-abortion protests, took steps they had been taught including silencing their cellphones. Managers also put word out to colleagues not to call those in the building in case any telephones would still ring.
“This is a community that’s been under attack,” Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood’s Rocky Mountain chapter, told Reuters, referring to her organization.
“That is what we’re trained to do,” she said after speaking at a church vigil for victims of the rampage. “We place the safety of our patients and staff above all else.”
The gunman, named on Saturday as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, surrendered to officers after an hours-long standoff under steadily falling snow. Police have not discussed his motives.
Authorities have said he was armed with a rifle when he entered the clinic and opened fire shortly before noon.
Police and sheriff’s deputies exchanged gunfire with the suspect inside the building as authorities tracked their movements from room to room by watching live video feeds from security cameras within the clinic.
Officers gained entry to the building with an armored Bearcat vehicle and used it to carry the wounded and others to safety, police said in a statement on Saturday.
Twenty-four people were evacuated, while about 300 people sheltered in place during the standoff in businesses near the clinic, according to the statement.
Asked at a news conference about conflicting reports as to whether the shooting began inside or outside the clinic, Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey said he could not comment on that because the investigation was in progress.
Planned Parenthood’s Cowart said she did not know if the dead civilians were patients or visitors at the clinic. Their names have not been released.
“This was a terrifying afternoon for everyone,” she said.
Cowart told a packed vigil at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church that the 15 employees who were working that day were safe and with their families, and that the attack would not deter the organization.
“We will adapt. We still square our shoulders and we will move on. We will show up for work on Monday,” she said. She was applauded by the attendees, who sang Amazing Grace.
An overflow crowd spilled into an area outside the main hall where members of the congregation sat at tables writing sympathy notes pertaining to the victims.
One man held a homemade placard that read: “Women’s bodies are not battlefields. Neither is our town.”
At least eight abortion clinic workers have been killed since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation, most recently in 2009 when abortion doctor George Tiller was shot and killed at a church in Wichita, Kansas.
It said that clinics operated by various groups reported nearly 7,000 incidents of trespassing, vandalism, arson, death threats, and other forms of violence since 1977.
Police Chief Carey said his department had held conversations about security with Planned Parenthood prior to Friday’s shooting, “as is the case with many of our bigger organizations in the city.”
He said such discussions were intended to develop site plans and provide suggestions to make their operations safer.
“I don’t know of any specific threats that I can discuss right now from that organization, but we’ve had some conversations in the past with them,” Carey said.
Reporting by Keith Coffman; Additional reporting Daniel Wallis in Denver and Frank McGurty in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Toni Reinhold