WICHITA, Kan. - Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions despite decades of protests and attacks, was shot and killed yesterday in a church where he was serving as an usher.
The gunman fled, but a suspect was detained some 170 miles away in suburban Kansas City three hours after the shooting, Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said.
Although Stolz refused to release the man's name, Johnson County sheriff's spokesman Tom Erickson identified the detained man as Scott Roeder, 51.
He had not been charged in the slaying and was expected to be taken to Wichita for questioning.
But the doctor's violent death was the latest in a string of shootings and bombings over two decades directed against abortion clinics, doctors and staff.
Long a focus of national anti-abortion groups, including a summer-long protest in 1991, Tiller, 67, was shot in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church. Tiller's attorney, Dan Monnat, said Tiller's wife, Jeanne, was in the choir at the time.
The slaying is "an unspeakable tragedy," his widow, four children and 10 grandchildren said in statement. "This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace."
The family said its loss "is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence."
Tiller's Women's Health Care Services clinic is one of just three in the nation where abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy. The clinic was heavily fortified and Tiller often traveled with a bodyguard, but Stolz said there was no indication of security at the church yesterday.
President Barack Obama said he was "shocked and outraged" by the killingr. "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," he said.
At Tiller's church, Adam Watkins, 20, said he was sitting in the middle of the congregation when he heard a small pop at the start of the service.
"We just thought a child had come in with a balloon and it had popped, had gone up and hit the ceiling and popped," Watkins said.
Another usher came in and told the congregation to remain seated, then escorted Tiller's wife out. "When she got to the back doors, we heard her scream, and so we knew something bad had happened," Watkins said.
Tiller had in the past endured threats and violence. A protester shot Tiller in both arms in 1993, and his clinic was bombed in 1985.