KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Two weeks before Wichita, Kan., abortion doctor George Tiller was gunned down in his church, he called colleague Susan Hill in North Carolina.
Tiller wanted her to send pictures of people who had recently been threatening Hill and her staff. He said he was seeing new anti-abortion protesters outside his clinic and wondered if they were traveling around.
“I said, ‘I don’t know, George. I think there’s something coming,’ ” recalled Hill, who operates clinics in four states. “He said, ‘I do, too.’
“We knew it. You smell it. Strange things were happening in our Mississippi clinic and in North Carolina. Strange people were coming around. And he admitted that for the first time, he really believed that something was going to go down.”
In the days since Tiller’s death, abortion rights advocates across the country say they sensed an uptick in incidents and threats before the shooting. That included more people at protests, more clinic vandalism and more protesters singling out certain clinic employees or physicians with threats.
Police and prosecutors are still trying to piece together everything that happened in Tiller’s death. On Friday, the Justice Department launched an investigation into whether any federal laws had been violated.
The probe will include a thorough review of the Tiller case and seek to determine whether anyone else was involved.
Abortion rights advocates worry about further incidents, especially with a president in the White House who supports abortion rights.
That’s when extremists can feel desperate, they say.
Last Sunday, Tiller was passing out church bulletins when a gunman shot him once. Nearly four hours later, Scott P. Roeder – a man suspected of vandalizing a Kansas City, Kan., clinic the day before – was arrested in Johnson County, Kan.
Numerous anti-abortion groups, including Operation Rescue, have condemned Tiller’s killing, saying they want to work through peaceful and legal means to bring change.
Hundreds of people gathered in Wichita on Saturday to honor Tiller, eulogized by a longtime friend as a passionate and generous man who repeatedly overcame difficult challenges.
Tiller’s funeral at College Hill United Methodist Church also drew small groups of protesters. Police and federal marshals provided heavy security.