George Tiller did not have to die. He was assassinated while in church in Wichita, Kan., on Sunday, targeted for legally performing abortions. His death might have been prevented simply through enforcement of existing laws. His alleged killer was seen vandalizing a Kansas City clinic, Aid for Women, both the week before and the day before the murder, putting glue into its door locks. The manager of that clinic, who calls himself "Jeff Pederson" to protect his identity, told me he called the FBI and local police both times, but the vandal, the alleged killer Scott Roeder, was not arrested. Pederson had Roeder's first name and his license-plate number. He had images of him on the security video. He recognized him from previous protests.
Pederson said: "The clinic was closed on Memorial Day weekend. A worker tried to get in on Memorial Day but couldn't. The locks were Super-Glued. I went to the videotape and I saw the same guy on the videotape who had done it in 2000." Pederson called his contact at the FBI, agent Mark Colburn. "He [Colburn] said the videotape wouldn't be clear enough, and since I had touched the locks, I had ruined it with my DNA. So I bought new color video cameras."
On Saturday, May 30, the clinic manager said "Scott" struck again: "My head nurse calls me, 5:40 Saturday morning. She had come to prep for the patients. When she was coming back from the store she noticed the Taurus [Roeder's car]. She made her way to the back door. She saw him. He saw her and bolted. She followed him to his car and started talking to him.
"He tried to stand in front of the license plate, but she got it, 225 BAB. As she ran back to the clinic, he shouted ‘Baby killer!' at her."
Pederson called Colburn, reporting the second vandalism and letting him know he had better video. Pederson said Colburn told him, "The Johnson County prosecutor won't do anything until the grand jury convenes." The next day, Tiller was murdered, allegedly by Roeder.
I called the Kansas City FBI and reached Colburn. He immediately referred me to FBI spokesperson Bridget Patton. I asked her about the incidents at the clinic and why the suspect hadn't been arrested either time. She said: "I am not sure of the timeline, but whenever an act of vandalism occurs at an abortion clinic, we are notified of that vandalism and respond appropriately."
Tiller's medical practice, which included performing late-term abortions, drew rage, protests and attacks during the decades of his career. His clinic was bombed in the mid-1980s. He survived an assassination attempt in 1993, when he suffered gunshot wounds to each of his arms. Bill O'Reilly on Fox News Channel demonized him as "Tiller the Baby Killer." He was the target of a political prosecution by a former Kansas attorney general, Phill Kline, and was acquitted just months ago on misdemeanor charges that he violated state rules on providing abortions.
Roeder was picked up shortly after the shooting Sunday in his Ford Taurus. On Tuesday, he was charged with first-degree murder.
I asked Pederson if he thought Tiller's murder could have been prevented if the authorities had simply arrested Roeder after he vandalized the Kansas City clinic. Pederson paused. "I don't know," he said.
But Dr. Susan Robinson was adamant. She flies to Wichita every month to perform abortions in Tiller's clinic. She said, "It is generally regarded amongst those who do clinic security, if local authorities are not responsive, if they don't show up or they don't vigilantly enforce the law, that it encourages the anti-abortion people to push it further and further."
She said: "In Wichita, Dr. Tiller was constantly dealing with the same lack of enforcement. Wichita prohibits placing signs on city property. But they allow the anti-abortion protesters to set up dozens of crosses and leave them all day. Dr. Tiller went to the city attorney over the crosses, and complained that people block the clinic driveway. He told me that the city attorney said, ‘I would rather be sued by George Tiller than the anti-abortion folks.' "
The 1994 federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) makes it a crime to block or damage a reproductive health service facility.
Enforcing FACE saves lives. George Tiller will be buried on Saturday.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.