June 1, 2009
The late-term abortion doctor George Tiller was handing out bulletins to parishioners at his home church on Sunday when he was killed by a single bullet.
The 67-year-old man, who often volunteered as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church, had survived at least two other assassination attempts from extreme abortion opponents. Tiller was one of a handful of controversial doctors who continued to provide late-term (or third-trimester) abortions in the United States.
At a news conference Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said the controversial doctor died of a single gunshot wound. The Johnson County Sheriff's Office identified the suspect as Scott P. Roeder of Merriam, Kan. The 51-year-old suspect was arrested without incident near Kansas City and on his way back to Wichita.
Formal charges have been delayed, but Roeder faces one count of murder and two counts of aggravated assault. Stolz says the suspect threatened two others who tried to keep him from leaving the area.
The killing is not Roeder’s first outburst of extremism. In 1996, Roeder was charged in Topeka with criminal use of explosives for having bomb components in his car trunk and sentenced to 24 months of probation. His conviction was overturned on appeal the next year, when a higher court said law enforcement officers seized evidence against Roeder during an illegal search of his car.
At the time, police said the FBI had also identified Roeder as a member of the anti-government Freemen group, an organization that kept the FBI at bay in Jordan, Mont., for almost three months in 1995-96.
Morris Wilson, a commander of the Kansas Unorganized Citizens Militia in the mid-1990s, told The Kansas City Star he clearly remembered Roeder’s views on abortion.
"I'd say he's a good ol' boy, except he was just so fanatic about abortion," Wilson said. "He was always talking about how awful abortion was. But there’s a lot of people who think abortion is awful."
Tiller's family issued a statement through Wichita attorneys Dan Monnat and Lee Thompson:
"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."
Pro-life advocates have protested outside late-term abortion doctor George Tiller's clinic for years. Many within the Pro Life community, however, are shocked with the news of Tillers death. Organizations like Kansans for Life say they deplore the killing.
“This is a tragic day,” said David Gittrich, Kansas State Development Director of Kansans for Life (KFL). “We don’t support this type of activity in any way. We work to bring about change through peaceful means.”
Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said, “We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down. Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller's family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”
Sunday night hundreds in the community gathered for a candlelight vigil. There, statements from pro-life groups throughout Kansas and the nation condemning Tiller's murder did little to quiet the outrage by a mostly pro-choice group.
"Where will you stand? Will you let the hate mongers take over and win every battle or will you stand for justice and tolerance and peace and love," said one member of West Heights United Methodist Church in Wichita.
Organizers had hoped for a peaceful vigil that would provide a chance for people to unite regardless of their position on abortion.
“I was shocked and disgusted at the news with what happened this morning,” said Dustin Deckard, who organized the vigil. “I just started checking around to see if there was any candlelight vigil or any memorial services planned for tonight and they’re weren’t – so, with a few nudges from my friends, I started organizing one.”
This wasn’t the first time Tiller was the victim of violence. On June 9, 1986 someone detonated a homemade bomb on the roof of his Wichita clinic. No one was hurt.
During Operation Rescue’s “Summer of Mercy” in 1991, protesters blocked the entrance to his facility before a federal judge ruled the protesters be arrested.
Two years later, Dr. Tiller was shot in the arm outside his clinic the evening of August 19, 1993. His wounds were not life threatening. Abortion opponent Shelly Shannon was convicted of that shooting and sentenced to prison.
According to the National Abortion Federation, Tiller was the eighth U.S. abortion provider murdered since 1977. Seventeen others have been targeted with attempted murder.