Politicizing Religion Part IV/ Murder In Jesus' Name/ Suspect in slaying of abortion provider George Tiller being returned to Wichita
BY STAN FINGER AND JOE RODRIGUEZ
The Wichita Eagle
http://www.kansas.com/news/breaking/story/833730.htmlWICHITA - A suspect in this morning's fatal shooting of George Tiller is in custody and on his way back to Wichita, deputy chief Tom Stolz of the Wichita Police Department said today at a news conference.
The 51-year-old male suspect was arrested about three hours after the shooting without incident near Gardner on Interstate 35.
Tiller, 67, was shot just after 10 a.m. in the lobby of Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th, where he was a member of the congregation.
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.
A church member who did not want to be identified said the gunman threatened another person at the church after the shooting.
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."
Police had said they were looking for white male who was driving a 1990s powder blue Ford Taurus with Kansas license plate 225 BAB. The vehicle is registered to an owner in Merriam, which is in the Kansas City area.
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 that no one else was injured in the shooting. He would not say how many shots were fired. He said it's unclear whether the shooter exchanged any words with the victim.
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 of illegal abortion 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.
Check Kansas.com for updates.
Contributing: Tim Potter, Marcia Werts, Kevin McGrath and Conor Shine of The Eagle.
Contributing: Tim Potter, Marcia Werts and Conor Shine of The Eagle.