Doctor shooting raises abortion debate in Kansas

A dozen red roses, a symbol of anti-abortion activism, were placed in front of the church where Dr George Tiller was shot dead on Sunday evening.

Telegraph, UK/June 2, 2009

It is not known who laid the flowers, which were a few feet apart at the edge of the car park of the Reformation Lutheran church.

Police said that in the rear window of the 1993 blue Ford Taurus that suspect Scott Roeder was driving also contained a red rose. On the rear of his car was a Christian fish symbol with the word "Jesus" inside.

Near the roses, a dozen wreaths and bunches of flowers had been laid outside at the foot of a lamppost in front of the church where he was killed by a single shot.

Wreaths were also laid at Dr George Tiller's bunker-like clinic Women's Health Care Services, where he was one of a handful of American providers of late term abortions.

At the church, where Dr Tiller and his family had worshipped for years, the Rev Lowell Michelson remembered him as a "kind and gentle man, who loved his family and had many friends in this place and deep relationships with a lot of the folks here".

Mr Michelson said messages of support had flooded in by phone, email and text messages all morning, from all over the United States and all over the world, including Britain.

Mr Michelson said the church was aware of that Dr Tiller was at risk because of his work but "didn't let it preoccupy our time of gathering in worship".

"All people of all faiths hope their place of worship is a sanctuary. A big part of the shock and disbelief of these hours is that this happened within the walls of a holy place," he said.

"We reject any notion that violence against another human being is an acceptable way to resolve differences over any issue," he said in a statement.

The spacious foyer where Dr Tiller was handing out worship bulletins and showing people inside when he was shot, is no longer a crime scene.

Members of the red brick church, which was constructed 13 years ago beside a busy road, filtered through all morning to pray in the sanctuary, where a memorial was held on Sunday night.

Recalling the events of Sunday morning, Mr Michelson said he was about to begin the service when he heard a noise "like a hymn book being dropped on the tile floor".

"Not too many folks thought much of it until someone came in and I could see that something terrible had happened," he said.

The pastor went into the foyer with Dr Tiller's wife to find members of the congregation performing CPR. The gunman had fled quickly.

A fellow anti-abortion activist who knew Mr Roeder said that he believed that killing abortion doctors was an act of justifiable homicide.

"I know that he believed in justifiable homicide," Regina Dinwiddie, told McLatchy Newspapers. "I know he very strongly believed that abortion was murder and that you ought to defend the little ones, both born and unborn."

A vigil on Sunday night in Wichita was attended by around 400 people, both supporters and opponents of Dr Tiller.

Members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, held signs saying, "Baby killer in hell".

Leslie Means, a church member, said of Dr Tiller: "When you do that for a living, you kind of ask for it in a way."

However, Mary Harren, a local member of Catholics for Choice, said she found it "absolutely unbelievable that people call themselves pro-life could do this".

Lee Thompson, Dr Tiller's lawyer, said the doctor was aware of security concerns - he regularly had a bodyguard, though not at church - but did not let them dictate how he lived.

He said Dr Tiller never left the house without wearing a badge that read "Attitude is Everything".

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