Just minutes earlier, a gunman had gone to the parking lot of a Planned Parenthood center here and unleashed a barrage of bullets, turning a bustling, snow-covered shopping center into a tableau of chaos and fear that lasted for more than five hours.
Ms. Schilter dived behind the coffee counter when the shooting began. A woman who identified herself as a nurse rushed to help the bloodied man who had just walked in.
As the nurse held his hand, he told people that he had been shot by a man in the parking lot between the Planned Parenthood clinic and the grocery store.
“He was just so much in shock,” said Taylor White, 23, who was in the store. “He was like, ‘Some crazy person out there is shooting people.’ ”
The authorities identified the gunman as Robert Lewis Dear, 57, a heavily bearded man with a rifle who left three people dead, including Garrett Swasey, a University of Colorado police officer, and nine wounded.
Investigators on Saturday were looking into Mr. Dear’s motive, and little was immediately known about him. He registered to vote in Colorado only a year ago. Before that he had drawn the attention of law enforcement officials in North Carolina and South Carolina, who accused him of minor offenses and traffic violations.
But on a snowy Friday after Thanksgiving he took control of a women’s health clinic that, like so many of its kind across the country, has become a magnet for anti-abortion protests. The protests have been fueled in recent months by the release of surreptitious videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing using fetal organs for research.
On Saturday, President Obama again called on America to tackle gun violence. “This is not normal,” he said in a statement. “We can’t let it become normal. If we truly care about this — if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them.”
Those who were caught near the carnage on Friday described an excruciating, hourslong wait for either the police to restore safety — or the gunman to pierce their hide-outs. People inside the clinic holed up in an ultrasound room and other hideaways.
Mr. Dear stalked a man who was crawling through the parking lot, apparently trying to hide, a witness told news outlets. He was focused on the medical clinic but indiscriminate with his targets, firing his long gun into the entryway before turning around and shooting through the windshield of the witness, a man who tried to flee after dropping off friends there.
Mr. Dear stood his ground through a gun battle with the police until they eventually coaxed him into surrendering. On Saturday, he was being held without bond at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center.
The rampage cut short a busy workday at the clinic, with 30 people signed up for appointments and many more walking in to pick up prescriptions or get health screenings.
It left the country to reckon yet again with the widespread access to assault-style weapons, and carried echoes of past violence — including arson, bombings, assaults and murders — at clinics that handle abortions and reproductive health..
Officers struggled to get inside the clinic and make contact with the gunman, talking over the police scanner about firing through the walls in a desperate attempt to stop the bloodshed.
As the shots rang out, employees and customers at businesses around the Planned Parenthood — a bank, a beauty supply center, a nursing home — quickly locked their doors, hiding behind walls and sending frantic notes to parents, spouses and children. Most would remain there for hours, some occasionally catching glimpses of the prolonged gun battle.
William Carson, 23, of Aspen, Colo., had just gotten out of his car in the parking lot outside the grocery store, King Soopers, when he heard shots. In town for the holiday, he had run out for bandages after his mother cut her hand while making breakfast.
Mr. Carson noticed a number of police cars, but the horror registered only when he began hearing the gunfire.
“I heard six or seven shots while I was still out of the car,” Mr. Carson said in a phone interview. “One second in between each shot. Fast, but not machine gun fast.”
He quickly ducked into the Joint, a chiropractor’s office in the strip mall north of King Soopers. He saw a cluster of officers behind riot shields moving north with their guns drawn. Along with a receptionist and four patients, he spent most of the day following events online and trying to reassure his family.
"I was making plans in my head," he said. "And I was on the phone with my mom and my brother and making plans to escape through the back."
An official with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains had been one of the people caught on the surreptitious videos made by abortion opponents and released this summer. The tapes captured a conversation with a medical director in Denver talking about using fetal organs for research. More than 300 people protested outside the Colorado Springs clinic on Aug. 22, a day of nationwide protests aimed at getting federal and state lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood in the wake of the videos’ release.
Vicki Cowart, the president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said that it appeared that the suspect “broke his way in” to the building, but that she did not know precisely how the attack had unfolded. She said that abortion opponents regularly protested on the public street outside the center, shouting at staff and patients, but that there had been no specific threats against the Colorado Springs clinic.
“We had no reason to suspect anything,” she said.
She said 15 staff members had been there, and a security guard had also been working at the facility, which sits on a privately owned street amid other medical offices.
Officer Swasey, 44, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs officer who was killed, was a co-pastor at Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs. A member of the campus police force for six years, he was described by those who knew him as a loving father of two and a nationally ranked figure skater and ice dancer. The two civilians killed were not immediately identified.
The shooting jarred a state that has been the site of a string of recent mass shootings. Relatives weighed whether to try to reach their loved ones or stay away, for fear of a gunman still unaccounted for.
Sydney Downey, 20, was at Sally Beauty Supply when she sent a text message to her boyfriend, Alexander Williams, 26.
“Someones opening fire,” she wrote.
“Whaaaat the?” he replied, adding an expletive.
“At least two three dozen rounds already,” she typed back.
Not far away, at a nursing home and rehabilitation center called the Center at Centennial, Sandy Berryman, 57, had brought her granddaughter, Gaby Choplin, 6, to work.
“One of our co-workers told us: ‘Stay in your office, I think we’re on lockdown, there’s been a shooting,’ ” Ms. Berryman said later. She shoved Gaby into a windowless office. Two other people at the center saw police snipers ascend to the upper levels of the building.
“I would look out, and there would be all the police, all the rifles running around,” Ms. Berryman said. “It was all right there in front of us.”
Outside the rehabilitation center, Kenny Lane, 80, said he was frantically trying to get in touch with his wife of 53 years, who was a patient there. “I got pretty close to the Planned Parenthood,” he said. “And a lady was coming out, and she said, ‘Turn around and leave, because there is an active shooter.’ ”
Back at the grocery store, it took about an hour for officials to determine it was safe for the bloodied man to leave, several witnesses said.
“He was escorted out of the building to be taken to the hospital,” said Daniel Robb, 27, who works at the store’s sushi counter.
Officials told the rest of the group to stay behind. Doughnuts and sandwiches appeared, and Mr. Robb continued rolling sushi, unsure of what else to do. Lou Sears, 64, a veteran of the Vietnam War, found an Iraq war veteran. “We talked all afternoon,” Mr. Sears said.
Hours passed as the police engaged in their battle with the gunman, at one point ramming a BearCat armored vehicle into the Planned Parenthood building and rescuing some of the people inside.
At 4:52 p.m., the police announced that they had the gunman in custody.
Soon, officers arrived at the grocery store, the bank and other establishments, and told people that it was over. They were loaded onto buses — their cars would be left in the lot, they were told, to be inspected for bombs — and their relatives would meet them at a nearby furniture store.
The store filled with waiting parents, spouses and children, who lounged on new couches amid holiday decorations. Christmas carols played. Snow fell outside. The buses arrived.
People poured out. Among them was Ms. Schilter, the woman at the grocery store. Her boyfriend, Jackson Ricker, 18, placed his arms around her waist and his chin on her shoulder and noted that Ms. Schilter had witnessed a different shooting a few weeks earlier when a heavily armed man shot and killed a bicyclist and two women in the downtown.
“The first time she cried,” said Mr. Ricker, looking at his dry-eyed girlfriend. “She’s a veteran now.”More News Here
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