June 1, 2009 in Nation/World

Abortion doctor killed at church

Suspect held in Wichita attack
Robert Barnes Washington Post
Associated Press photos photo

The body of Dr. George Tiller is removed from Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan., on Sunday. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

George Tiller, the nation’s most prominent provider of controversial late-term abortions, was shot and killed Sunday in the lobby of his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kan., where he was serving as an usher.

The gunman fled, but a 51-year-old suspect was detained some 170 miles away in suburban Kansas City three hours after the shooting, Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said. Although Stolz refused to release the man’s name, Johnson County sheriff’s spokesman Tom Erickson identified the detained man as Scott Roeder. A 51-year-old man named Scott Roeder was booked into the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita on Sunday night on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. He was being held without bond, according to the Associated Press.

Stolz said all indications were that the assailant acted alone. The FBI and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation are involved to determine whether others were part of the attack and whether the suspect had any connection to anti-abortion groups.

Tiller, 67, had performed abortions since the 1970s and ran the Women’s Health Care Services clinic, one of just three in the nation to perform abortions after the point when a fetus is considered able to survive outside the womb.

Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993 by abortion protester Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon, who remains in prison for the crime. In recent years, he declined interviews and public appearances out of fear for his safety.

He had also been a frequent subject of attempted prosecution in a state that has become one of the battlegrounds of attempts to restrict abortion.

In March, the physician was acquitted of criminal charges that he performed late-term abortions without properly obtaining a second medical opinion.

President Barack Obama issued a statement late Sunday saying he was “shocked and outraged” by the killing.

“However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence,” Obama said.

Tiller’s family members said through their attorney: “Today we mourn the loss of our husband, father and grandfather. Today’s event is an unspeakable tragedy for all of us and for George’s friends and patients. This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace.”

The statement also called his death a “loss for the city of Wichita and women across America,” adding: “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence.”

Activists on both sides of the issue denounced the attack.

“Dr. Tiller’s murder will send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers and other professionals who are part of reproductive-health centers that serve women across this country,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, whose group is based in Wichita and whose Web site carries a “Tiller Watch” feature, said he was “shocked” by the killing.

“Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice,” Newman said in a statement. “We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning.”

But Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, called Tiller “a mass murderer” and added: “We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God.”

Tiller was shot just after 10 a.m. services began at Reformation Lutheran Church, where his wife, Jeanne, sang in the choir and he was handing out bulletins in the church lobby.

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