Two bomb blasts, apparently timed to go off about an hour apart, damaged a suburban Atlanta abortion clinic on Thursday morning and injured six people, including investigators and news reporters who were drawn to the first blast.
No one was hurt when the first explosion, at about 9:30 a.m., shattered glass, brought down parts of walls and ceilings, and caused a small fire that was quickly extinguished at a three-story office building, which houses an abortion clinic on the ground floor.
Then, as firefighters and investigators from several agencies combed the scene and television news crews did live coverage, a second bomb - believed to have been hidden in a trash bin - exploded, knocking people to the ground and bloodying at least two of them.
The early blast, on the first floor, terrified office workers and sent them running for the exits. Investigators have not determined if the device was planted inside or just outside the office building. But it was the second blast, at about 10:30 a.m., that injured people.
The explosion, first believed to have originated from a large trash bin in the front corner of the lot, sent shrapnel into one investigator, and a television news reporter apparently hurt his head when he was knocked to the ground. But none of the injuries seemed to be serious, investigators said.
Hospitals treated and released most of the injured by the afternoon, including two agents from the FBI, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and a Fulton County firefighter.
“Of the many images I’ve seen on the news today,” said Kent Alexander, the U.S. attorney here, “one was of a friend of all of ours, an agent who lay with his hands bloodied and his face bloodied, we will not tolerate this in our community, and we expect to get to the bottom of it.”
Investigators did not know what kind of device was used and could not say for sure if the clinic, the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Services, was its target. The clinic is in Sandy Springs, just north of the city. The building also contains offices for doctors, dentists and lawyers. The bomb could have been intended for another target, Alexander said, adding, “We are not ruling out domestic terrorism unrelated to clinic violence.”
But the first bomb was apparently placed either inside the clinic or just outside a window. The explosion badly damaged part of the clinic’s operating room, waiting room and counseling room.
“It appears that the clinic was the target,” said Lt. C.C. Cass of the Atlanta Police Department. .
The blast outraged politicians around the country, including President Clinton. He called the bombings a “vile and malevolent act.” “Make no mistake,” the president said. “Anyone who brings violence against a woman trying to exercise her constitutional rights is committing an act of terror.”
The clinic was mostly empty on Thursday. It sees patients on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Geralyn Thompson, a 23-year-old counselor at the clinic, would have been in the waiting room, but was late for work. She said she would have been sitting close to where the worst damage happened.
“My guardian angel made me sleep late today,” she said.
The blast sent Pat Pittler, an assistant in a dental office, running.
“I got out of there,” she said.
People in Atlanta could not help but be reminded of another blast, one that investigators have not solved and, instead, seemed to mishandle at first: the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park last summer, when federal investigators first pursued and then exonerated Richard Jewell, a security guard.
Alexander said investigators would try to determine if the bomb on Thursday shared any characteristics with the Olympic Park bomb of July 27, which killed one person.
“This is probably about the worst place in the country to set off a bomb,” said Alexander, referring to the explosives experts who are in Atlanta to work on the Olympics case. “We are ready to pursue this professionally and expertly.”
The second blast today puzzled investigators. “It almost seemed timed to hurt those coming to the scene to help,” said Mayor Bill Campbell of Atlanta.
Campbell asked the police to guard other Atlanta abortion clinics.
Abortion protesters were mixed in their responses. The National Right to Life Committee denounced the bombings as “deplorable and reprehensible.”
But others, like Paul deParrie, editor in chief of Life Advocate magazine, in Portland said: “I think it is wonderful any time an abortion clinic is closed for whatever reason. If the toilet backs up and closes the place, that is great. I think it is great when babies’ lives are saved through whatever means. I am not going to try to condemn somebody that God won’t condemn.”
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