A melancholy, Scripture-quoting student hairdresser was arrested minutes after shots were fired at an abortion clinic Saturday and charged with spraying deadly gunfire through two clinics in suburban Boston a day earlier.
John C. Salvi III, who faces two firstdegree murder charges in the Brookline, Mass., attacks, was arrested about three blocks from the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk.
The clinic, on the second floor of a three-story building, was open at the time. No one was injured. Two guards were posted in the ground-floor lobby. The gunman, who carried a black bag, opened fire from a back parking lot about 11:30 a.m. and pumped 23 bullets into the lobby’s windows, authorities said.
“It was like ‘pow-pow-pow-pow-pow,”’ said 16-year-old Mark Brindel, who said he watched the shooting from his apartment next door. “He ran back to his truck, jumped into the truck and took off.”
Anti-abortion protesters were gathered at the front of the building at the time, clinic spokeswoman Suzette Caton said.
The man came to the back door lobby and asked directions to a fast-food restaurant. A guard pointed him down the street, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Moments later, the man walked back to the doors, pulled a semiautomatic rifle from a duffel bag and opened fire. Some bullets passed through the lobby, went out the front doors and hit the ground just a few dozen yards from where a handful of the protesters were standing, the newspaper said.
An arson investigator on the scene for an unrelated case saw the gunman open fire, police spokesman Larry Hill said.
The investigator called in reinforce ments and gave chase. When police pulled the suspect over about three blocks from the clinic, he tossed a .22-caliber semiautomatic weapon out the truck window as officers surrounded him, Hill said.
The man bolted from his truck and tried to flee, but police herded him up against the wall of a bank.
“They cornered him so he couldn’t go anywhere,” said Terrie Seifert, who was at the bank. “They tackled him, about three or four of them, and put him in the car. It took enough of them to hold him down. He was trying to go.”
Salvi will appear before a federal magistrate in Norfolk on a charge of flight to avoid prosecution, then will be extradited to Massachusetts, U.S. Attorney Donald Stern said in Boston.
Authorities turned their attention to the 22-year-old Salvi after linking him to a handgun, ammunition and a receipt from Bob’s Tactical Shooting Range and Gun Shop in Salisbury, Mass., all found in a black duffel bag the shooter dropped at one of the clinics in Brookline.
Outside the Brookline clinics, where two women were slain and five other people were wounded Friday, votive candles flickered and flowers lay on the stairs. Cars passing on Beacon Street slowed as their occupants craned to look.
Three of the wounded were in fair condition Saturday and two were in serious condition.
A spokeswoman for one of the clinics, Preterm Health Services, said a decision will be made after the New Year on when the clinic will reopen. Preterm canceled Saturday’s office hours and the other clinic, a Planned Parenthood facility, was closed as scheduled Saturday. There was no word from Planned Parenthood on when it will reopen.
The White House hailed Salvi’s arrest: “This is a serious issue and something that not only the president, but all Americans, want to see stopped,” said spokeswoman Ginny Terzano.
Brookline’s three abortion clinics have been the site of hundreds of arrests of anti-abortion activists over the past decade.
Salvi’s co-workers and fellow students at the Portsmouth School of Hair Design in New Hampshire, where Salvi was studying to be a beautician, remember his gloomy air, the picture of a fetus he had posted on the back of his pickup and his habit of quoting from the Bible.
“I don’t see him qualifying as a terrorist - maybe a religious fanatic,” said Rick Griffin, who had hired Salvi to help out in his beauty shop in the resort town of Hampton, N.H.
Hairdresser Pam Nicholson found Salvi’s silence and “melancholy manner” disturbing, and Griffin recalled that when he spoke, which wasn’t often, it was mostly to quote Scripture.