DENVER — A SWAT team was moments away from launching a “final assault” on the Colorado Springs gunman Friday when he surrendered, ending his five-hour stand-off with police not in a hail of bullets but by throwing his gun on the floor.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers recounted Monday the events leading up to the capture of Robert Lewis Dear Jr., the suspect in last week’s horrific attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic that left three dead and nine injured.
“They were just about to make kind of a final assault and try and trap this guy in a hallway with what’s called a bearcat, go through the wall, at the point in time where he yelled that he was giving himself up,” said Mr. Suthers in an interview with KNUS-AM’s Dan Caplis in Denver.
“And we could watch on the security camera as he hopped over a reception desk and threw his weapon down and his coat down and gave himself up,” Mr. Suthers said. “It was incredibly dramatic.”
Mr. Suthers, who served previously as Colorado attorney general and also in the El Paso County district attorney’s office, said he was convinced the aggressive police response saved the lives of many of those trapped in the clinic.
“But there’s just absolutely no question in my mind that but for the way police responded, got there as quickly as they could, took him on confrontationally as quickly as they could, and the way this communication took place, that many lives were saved as a result,” said Mr. Suthers.
His description of the events came as the suspect made his first appearance in a Colorado Springs courtroom, where he was told by Judge Gilbert Martinez that he would face possible first-degree murder charges.
Dear, who appeared to struggle to stay awake, made only brief responses to questions from the judge during the hearing, which was videotaped on a close-circuit camera from the jail. He is expected to be charged Dec. 9.
Dear, 57, was accompanied by Dan King, the state’s chief public defender, who represented Aurora theater shooter James Eagan Holmes. A jury found him guilty but sentenced to life in prison without parole after coming up one vote short for a death-penalty verdict.
Three people died in the Colorado Springs shooting: Officer Garrett Swasey, 44, who served on the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs campus but was among the first to arrive at the clinic after the shooting started. His funeral is scheduled for Friday.
Jennifer Markovsky, a 35-year-old mother of two, and Iraq war veteran Ke’Arre Stewart, a 29-year-old father of two, were shot and killed as they accompanied friends to the clinic.
Five of those injured were police officers. Mr. Suthers said he had visited the officers and that none of them has a life-threatening injury.
“A couple of them were incredibly lucky,” Mr. Suthers said. “One had a grazed wound across his head where the bullet didn’t penetrate the skull. He said he was actually in his car driving into the parking lot when he got hit and he put his hand up to wipe the blood off, and the next bullet ripped his hand apart.”
So far investigators have not released details of the weapons used or a motive for the attack, although Mr. Suthers implied during the interview that Planned Parenthood was the target.
“So we don’t know a lot about what the possible motive may have been,” he said. “But Dan, you’re an intelligent guy. We’ve got a guy going into a Planned Parenthood center. I suspect most of our inferences will probably prove to be true, but as of this point in time, I can’t state with any particularity what the motive was.”
He said the worst of the shooting occurred at the start of the stand-off. Authorities at the emergency communications center were able to track the location of the gunman and people hiding in the clinic through a video feed from the Denver Planned Parenthood facility.
“So SWAT commanders in the emergency command center were communicating to SWAT officers in the building the movements of the perpetrator, they were communicating where people were hiding out in the building, who was behind locked doors, their whereabouts in the building,” Mr. Suthers said.
“As they were planning for a final assault, they were able to say, ‘Well, you’ve got people in the room behind this wall,’ and they were actually emailing in diagrams of building to the SWAT officers,” he said, adding, “It was amazing. Everybody was calm, incredibly professional.”