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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).
A jury convicts anti-abortion activist John Salvi of murdering two people and attempting to kill five others at two Massachusetts abortion clinics (see December 30, 1994 and After). Salvi’s lawyers fail in attempting to prove him insane, dubbing him a paranoid schizophrenic who is not legally responsible for his actions. In a statement to the court, Salvi refused to apologize for his actions, and instead told the court of his theories of a widespread anti-Catholic conspiracy. “As you know, I haven’t pled guilty though I am against abortion,” Salvi told the court. “My position is pro-welfare state, pro-Catholic labor union, and, basically, pro-life.” Salvi is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences as well as lengthy jail terms for the assault convictions. Planned Parenthood official Nicki Nichols Gamble says she hopes the verdict “will help to de-escalate the climate of fear and violence that has surrounded the services we provide.” Mark Nichols, the brother of Lee Ann Nichols, one of Salvi’s victims, says after the verdict is read, “Justice was done.” Ruth Ann Nichols, Lee Ann’s mother, said in a victim statement to Salvi and the court: “Without hesitation, I hope you have sheer misery every day of your life, as you have brought all the families. I request and hope that every December 30th they put you in solitary confinement.” Salvi’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., says he will appeal based on Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara’s refusal to allow Salvi to testify; towards the very end of the trial, Carney tried to assert Salvi’s right to testify, but attempted to limit the areas in which the prosecution could cross-examine him, and the judge refused to allow the restricted testimony. Carney told the jury that Salvi was a “sick, sick young man” who should be placed in a state mental facility. Prosecutor John Kivlan called Salvi an anti-abortion zealot and a “terrorist” who was lucid and sane enough to shoot seven people in three clinics in two states and avoid, for a time, a massive police manhunt. The prosecution showed that Salvi had attended meetings of anti-abortion groups and had literature from those groups, but could not show any links to the organized anti-abortion movement. (Daly 3/19/1996; Kushner 2003, pp. 39) In November 1996, Salvi will commit suicide in his jail cell. His convictions will be voided by Dortch-Okara because he will be unable to complete his appeals process due to his suicide, a technical ruling that will cause great pain to the family members of his victims. Ruth Ann Nichols will tell reporters, “I have to tell you the truth, it’s as if John Salvi is coming from the grave to bring me some hurt.” (New York Times 2/2/1997)
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