Wichita abortion provider George Tiller shot to death at Wichita church
BY STAN FINGER AND JOE RODRIGUEZ
The Wichita Eagle
President Obama said this afternoon that he was "shocked and outraged" by the killing of abortion doctor George Tiller, who was shot while attending church in east Wichita.
Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said at a news conference late this afternoon that a suspect in the shooting was in custody and on his way back to Wichita.
"However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," the president said in a statement issued by the White House.
The suspect, a 51-year-old male, was arrested without incident on I-35 in Johnson County about three hours after the shooting, Stolz said.
Police did not release the suspect's name.
The investigation is in its "infancy stages," Stolz said. He said the shooting appeared to be an isolated act.
Tiller, 67, was shot once just after 10 a.m. in the lobby of Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th St., where he was a member of the congregation.
Stolz said Tiller was shot in the foyer of the church. There were three or four eyewitnesses, he said. Six to 12 people were in the foyer at the time of the shooting.
Two men attempted to apprehend the suspect, but he pointed a gun at them and threatened them before fleeing, Stolz said.
The suspect's car -- a powder blue Ford Taurus registered to an owner in Merriam -- was spotted just south of Gardner by two Johnson County Sheriff's deputies. The Sheriff's Office had suspected that the man would be coming back to his home on I-35, and the deputies waited for him.
As the car was spotted going north on the highway, the deputies followed and were quickly joined by three other sheriff's patrol cars.
Lt. Mike Pfannenstiel of the Johnson County Sheriff's Office said officers pulled the car over just south of the main Gardner exit and got out with guns drawn. The man then got out of his car with his hands up.
"We took him down without incident," Pfannenstiel said, adding that the man appeared to be driving the speed limit and made no attempt to elude the deputies.
Stolz said police anticipate the suspect will be charged with murder and two counts of aggravated assault. Investigators will present the case to the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office on Monday.
The District Attorney's Office will determine what charges will be filed, Stolz said. Federal charges are also a possibility, he said.
Tiller was serving as an usher at the church, one of six ushers listed in the church bulletin. He was handing out bulletins to people going into the sanctuary minutes before being shot.
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."
Wichita police Capt. Brent Allred said that several law enforcement agencies -- including the FBI and the KBI -- have been called in to help with the case.
Allred said the 10 a.m. church service had already begun at the time of the shooting.
Homicide detectives and Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston arrived at the church after the shooting.
Members of the congregation who were inside the sanctuary at the time of the shooting were kept inside by police, and those arriving were ushered into the parking lot immediately after the shooting.
Witnesses later were transported downtown for interviews and other members of the congregation were slowly released from inside the sanctuary.
By 12:30 p.m., what appeared to be a body was taken away in an SUV with a patrol car behind it.
At about 12:40, a police dog was taken to check out a black SUV. An investigator wrote down the tag number on the vehicle.
Tiller has long been a focal point of protest by abortion opponents because his clinic, Women's Health Care Services at 5107 E. Kellogg, is one of the few in the country where late-term abortions are performed.
"It's a terrible loss. I'm just really sad about the whole thing," said a former employee of the clinic who asked not to be identified. "He was a great guy. I understand people were against a lot of what he did, but for those who he helped, they'll never forget the kind of person he was."
Mark Mitchell, who lives near where the shooting occurred, said he knew Tiller attended Reformation Lutheran Church because of the periodic protests there and media coverage.
He said the protests would sometimes be as large as two dozen people. The last protest he can remember there was in the fall.
"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," anti-abortion group Operation Rescue said in a statement on its Web site. "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."
Protesters blockaded Tiller's clinic during Operation Rescue's "Summer of Mercy" protests during the summer of 1991, and Tiller was shot by Rachelle Shannon at his clinic in 1993. Tiller was wounded in both arms, and Shannon remains in prison for the shooting.
The clinic was bombed in June 1986, and was severely vandalized earlier this month. According to the Associated Press, his lawyer said wires to security cameras and outdoor lights were cut and that the vandals also cut through the roof and plugged the buildings' downspouts. Rain poured through the roof and caused thousands of dollars of damage in the clinic. Tiller reportedly asked the FBI to investigate the incident.
No arrests were made in the 1986 bombing.
Sgt. Bart Brunscheen of the Wichita Police Department said earlier today that there has been no activity today at Tiller's clinic, although security crews were being brought in to make sure the building was secure. Officials also were going to check the clinic's security cameras to see if there was any activity over night.
Tiller and his clinic have faced continuous threats and lawsuits. A Wichita jury ruled in March that he was not guilty on 19 criminal charges he faced for allegedly violating a state law requiring an independent second physician's concurring opinion before performing later term abortions. Immediately following the ruling in this criminal case, the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts made public a similar complaint against Tiller that was originally filed in December 2008.
Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, who conducted an investigation into Tiller, said in a statement he was "stunned by this lawless and violent act, which must be condemned and should be met with the full force of law. We join in lifting prayer that God's grace and presence rest with Dr. Tiller's family and friends."
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