The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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Profile: Karen Harris

Karen Harris was a participant or observer in the following events:

John Salvi shortly after his arrest.John Salvi shortly after his arrest. [Source: Sonya Rapoport]Anti-abortion activist John Salvi, a former hairdresser, murders two receptionists at two separate women’s clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Murders Receptionists, Sprays Bullets in Clinics - Salvi quietly enters a Planned Parenthood clinic, asks receptionist Shannon Lowney, “Is this Planned Parenthood?” and then shoots her to death with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. Salvi then sprays the lobby with gunfire and departs. Minutes later, he enters the Preterm Health Services building two miles away and kills the receptionist, Lee Ann Nichols (some media sources identify her as “Leanne Nichols”). He again sprays the building with gunfire, but this time flees after security guard Richard Seron returns fire, in the process dropping a satchel containing a second gun and some 700 rounds of hollow-point ammunition. Eyewitness Angel Rodriguez later tells reporters: “He was completely calm and took his time. He kept the gun low on his hip and ran backwards, firing at least five shots. He was trying to scare people, and it worked.”
Shooting at Norfolk, Virginia Clinic - Police identify Salvi through a gun shop receipt he has left behind in the satchel, but are unable to find him until law enforcement officials arrest him for a non-fatal shooting at a women’s clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. In all, Salvi kills two and wounds five more.
Condemnation - Some anti-abortion groups are quick to condemn the shootings. The Reverend Flip Benham, leader of Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), tells reporters: “You don’t use murder to solve the problem of other murder. It is heresy.” Eleanor Smeal of the Fund for the Feminist Majority says, “While there are two sides to the issue of abortion, there are no two sides to the issue of shooting people for their opinions.” Law enforcement officials cannot find direct ties between Salvi and anti-abortion organizations.
'Ready to Go Off' - A woman who attended beauty school with Salvi, Karen Harris, later recalls: “He never showed emotion. He always had a straight face. But the main thing was how he would stare at people. He’d just stare and stare and wouldn’t look away.” Doreen Potter, who employed Salvi at a hair salon, later recalls that he flew into a rage a week before the shootings when she told him he couldn’t cut a client’s hair. After the incident, she will say, “this guy looked like he was ready to go off.” (Lemonick et al. 1/9/1995; Daly 3/19/1996; Washington Post 1998; Kushner 2003, pp. 39; CBS News 4/19/2007; Associated Press 5/31/2009)
Federal Authorities Ignored Warnings of Violence at Brookline Clinic - Planned Parenthood officials will later say that they had received an increased number of threats to their Brookline clinic in recent weeks, in part because that clinic is involved in testing the controversial RU-486 “morning after” conception prevention pill. They also say they had requested extra federal protection (see February 1994), a claim the US Attorney for the area refuses to discuss with reporters. (Lemonick et al. 1/9/1995)
Convicted of Murder, Suicides in Cell - Shortly after his arrest, anti-abortion activists will rally in support of Salvi outside his Norfolk prison (see January 1995). In 1996, Salvi will be convicted of the deaths and sentenced to life without parole; soon after, he will commit suicide in his jail cell (see March 19, 1996).


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