By all accounts, the somberly clad man acted cool and composed as he stepped up to the front desk at an abortion clinic on Beacon Street in Brookline, Massachusetts. "Is this Planned Parenthood?" he asked. Receptionist Shannon Lowney, 25, replied that it was, whereupon the man took a .22-cal. semiautomatic rifle from a black bag and shot her dead. Then he sprayed the room with gunfire and left.
Ten minutes later, the grisly scene was replayed, almost step by step, at Preterm Health Services, less than two miles away. Again the man police identified as John C. Salvi III, a 22-year-old hairdresser from Hampton, New Hampshire, made sure he was in the right place. Again he fatally shot the receptionist -- Leanne Nichols, 38 -- and again he kept on shooting. It was only when a security guard returned fire that the rifleman dropped his bag and fled. Yet even in retreat, he kept his composure. Says Angel Rodriguez, who witnessed the shooter's escape: "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."
Salvi moved quickly in the direction of Brookline's Cleveland Circle. Within hours, police had identified him through a gun-shop receipt in the bag he had left behind. And on Saturday, even as local, state and federal law-enforcement officials were mounting a multistate manhunt for the 5 ft. 11 in. curly-haired fugitive, there came reports of another, nonfatal shooting at the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. The suspect, arrested shortly thereafter, was John Salvi.
The final toll in the two-day shooting spree was two dead and five wounded. Were it not for security guard Richard Seron's quick reflexes, the casualties could have been much higher: Salvi's abandoned satchel also contained a second gun and 700 rounds of ammunition.
Salvi's rampage brought to five the number of abortion-clinic killings nationwide in the past two years. There have also been countless lesser acts of violence against abortion providers and their patients, including verbal and physical harassment, assaults and fire bombings. Government officials and activists on both sides of the contentious abortion issue were quick to condemn the killings. "You don't use murder to solve the problem of other murder. It is heresy," said the Rev. Flip Benham, director of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue. Said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Fund for the Feminist Majority: "While there are two sides to the issue of abortion, there are no two sides to the issue of shooting people for their opinions."