For the past five years, Catholic priest Bill Carmody led a weekly Mass in the parking lot of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility where a gunman killed three people Nov. 27.
In fact, Carmody had been in the parking lot with a handful of protesters that very morning, and he learned about the shooting after he’d left, when people texted him to make sure he was not hurt.
“I am absolutely heartbroken about this,” he said on Nov. 30.
“I’m against all violence, and whether you’re in the womb or outside the womb, killing’s wrong.”
Carmody heads the local chapter of Respect Life, one of many anti-abortion groups that have organized daily protests outside Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, which relocated to a high security facility in 2010.
Police have not commented on the gunman’s motive. But when he surrendered he reportedly talked about “no more body parts,” a possible reference to undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials allegedly offering to sell the remains of aborted fetuses.
The suspect, who lived 65 miles away in a ramshackle shelter near the small mountain town of Hartsel, was known for keeping to himself, having run-ins with neighbors and the law, and handing out anti-Obama brochures.
Carmody, who has been with Respect Life for 25 years, said the suspect was not affiliated with it, and he drew a clear distinction with other types of protestors he has seen outside the clinic “who promoted hate, not love.” He said his group, which is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will resume its weekly Masses at the clinic as soon as police conclude their investigation.
Colorado Springs, Colo., once described as the ground zero of the anti-gay rights movement, has been called “the Vatican of evangelical Christianity.” It is the headquarters of dozens of evangelical ministries.
And while some anti-abortion activists around the country have been known to equate abortion with mass murder — even comparing it to the Holocaust — many anti-abortion groups condemned the Nov. 27 shooting.
Focus on the Family, the most prominent anti-abortion group headquartered locally, condemned the attack. Its president called it “tragic and deplorable.”
“It has always been our philosophy to condemn violence and to treat people with respect, including those who disagree with you,” said Carrie Gordon Earll, the group’s vice president of public policy.
While she said Focus’s employees and associates may participate in anti-abortion protests, its main goal is getting pro-life legislation passed, including laws that eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.
“We help people with pro-life convictions to be good citizens, and to influence passage of pro-life measures, whether through state legislatures, or Congress, or ballot issues,” Gorden Earll said.
The Planned Parenthood tragedy was the second mass shooting in a month for Colorado Springs, a city that experienced wrenching culture wars in the 1990s over gay rights.
The three victims of the Planned Parenthood shooting include one veteran of the Iraq war and the wife of another veteran, and an elder from Hope Chapel, an evangelical congregation.
Garrett Swasey, a police officer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, rushed to the scene when Springs police issued a call for back-up and was killed.
At Hope Chapel on Nov. 29, the stool where Swasey sat to play guitar with the church’s praise band remained empty. The church’s co-pastor requested prayer for Swasey’s wife and two children, as well as the gunman, according to The Gazette newspaper.