Abortion Doctor Shot Dead in Wichita, Kan.

George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions, shot outside of church.

February 12, 2009, 4:07 PM

May 31, 2009— -- Police have arrested a suspect in the killing at church of a controversial abortion doctor, George Tiller, multiple sources told ABC News' Pierre Thomas.

Tiller, 67, was shot and killed this morning in the lobby of the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan., where he served as an usher and his wife, Jean, sang in the choir. Tiller was handing out programs at Sunday services at the time of the shooting.

The suspect, identified late today as Scott Roeder, was picked up and arrested without incident by Johnson County Sheriff Department around 1:15 p.m., local time, law enforcement officials told ABC News. Deputies identified the light blue 1990s Ford Taurus, which witnesses saw fleeing the scene, in Gardner, Kan., roughly two and half to three hours away from where Tiller was killed.

The suspect is expected to be charged Monday with one count of homicide and two counts of aggravated assault, police said.

Tiller, who ran the Women's Health Care Services clinic, a high-profile abortion clinic in Wichita, was one of the few doctors in the country that still performed late-term abortions. Earlier this month, Tiller's clinic was vandalized, according to reports.

Tiller has long been a target of anti-abortion activists. His clinic has often been the scene of nonviolent protests, but he was also shot outside his clinic in 1993 and his clinic was bombed in 1985.

Wichita Police Capt. Brent Allred said police got an initial call about a shooting at the church at around 10 a.m. local time.

"When [officers] arrived, they found a 67-year-old man had been shot by an unknown suspect or suspects," Wichita Police Duty Chief Gordon Bassham said, adding that the victim was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after emergency crews arrived.

Tiller's attorney, Dan Monnat, confirmed to The Associated Press that Tiller was the victim.

"We don't know whether one or more than one person was involved in this incident," Bassham said before the suspect was captured. "That's part of the ongoing investigation."

Allred said the church was full as shots rang out, and witnesses quickly were rounded up for clues. Wichita Police Deputy Chief Tom Stolz said they have a handful of witnesses who were in close proximity.

Several told reporters they were shocked when shots rang out, even more so because it happened at a church.

"I don't believe in abortion, but I don't believe that we have the right to take anyone's life -- including Dr. Tiller," churchgoer Vivian Farha said. "It's horrible. You would think that that would be one place you can ... feel safe and be in peace with your surroundings. ... I think this why everyone is in shock."

Abortion Clinics Offered U.S. Marshals' Protection

An unidentified woman who answered the phone at Tiller's clinic in Kansas declined to comment or specify whether security measures had been increased in light of Tiller's killing.

Stolz said that Wichita police would be considering whether they need to do more to protect the clinic.

"We will look at security measures as a second facet of this investigation," Stolz said at a news conference after the suspect was arrested.

Attorney General General Eric Holder said protection would be offered to abortion providers.

"I have directed the United States Marshals Service to offer protection to other appropriate people and facilities around the nation," Holder said in a statement released late today by the Justice Department. "The Department of Justice will work to bring the perpetrator of this crime to justice. As a precautionary measure, we will also take appropriate steps to help prevent any related acts of violence from occurring."

Tiller's attorneys gave The Associated Press a statement on behalf of his wife, four children and 10 grandchildren.

"Today's event is an unspeakable tragedy for all of us and for George's friends and patients," the statement said. This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace.

"George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality heath care despite frequent threats and violence," the statement added."

Lindsey Roeder, the suspect's ex-wife, said she came home from church today to find FBI and ATF agents going through her house in Overland Park, Kan., which is about three hours outside Wichita.

When they said they were there investigating the killing of a doctor who provided abortions, she felt instantly that her ex-husband was likely involved.

Lindsey Roeder said it was Scott Roeder's strong anti-abortion views that led to the couple's 1996 divorce. She said her ex-husband never kept quiet about his views on abortion.

"My family does not condone or support what Scott has done. This event is a tragic and senseless one and our thoughts and prayers are with the congregation and the doctor's family," Lindsey Roeder said.

She said her former husband was a member of the Freemen in Missouri and has a criminal history that includes an 1996 arrest for various parole violations and having bomb making materials. She said he did do some time on charges related to those issues, but was released on a technicality.

She said that Friday night Scott Roeder was adamant about seeing his 22-year-old son, Nick, who she claimed has tried to avoid his father and only saw him about once every six weeks growing up.

"My son is only related to his father by blood and does not believe in any of the same views his father does," she said.

The two did meet Friday night, though, she said, and she believes the meeting was meant as a goodbye from father to son.

For decades, Tiller has been a target of anti-abortion violence. In 1985, his clinic was bombed, and in 1993, he was shot in both arms outside the clinic by Rachelle Shannon of Grants Pass, Ore. He testified at Shannon's trial.

Tiller said he initially thought rubber bullets had been fired, according to ABC News Radio.

"I looked down at the floor and there's blood all over the place and there's glass all over the place. And I figured I'd been shot," he said in 1994.

After the 1993 shooting, Tiller immediately returned to work. The controvserial abortion doctor often wore a bullet-proof vest and drove an armored car, ABC News' Stephanie Sy reported. He was guarded by federal marshals for three years.

"I have a right to go to work," he said in 1991. "What I'm doing is legal. What I'm doing is moral, ethical, and you won't run me out of town."

Tiller is believed to be the first abortion doctor to be killed since Barnett Slepian was assasinated in Amherst, N.Y. in 1998.

In March, Tiller was acquitted of 19 misdemeanor charges that he performed abortions illegally, failing to follow state law and obtain a second opinion on late-term abortions.

Under Kansas state law, abortion is legal only when a doctor affirms that the fetus can't live independently outside of the mother's womb, also known as determining viability. If the fetus is viable, two doctors must attest that the abortion is necessary for the well-being of the mother's physical or mental health.

A longtime acquaintance of the doctor from the Wichita Country Club who did not want to use her name told ABC News.com that the news of his death was extremely upsetting.

"It infuriates me," she told ABCNews.com. "He was shot in church. He was persecuted by some radical thinking individuals.

"He was well-respected in many circles in Wichita and had a presence about him," she added. "You could look at him and tell he was a man of character."

The homicide has shaken up the upper-middle-class neighborhood of East Wichita, where violence is relatively uncommon.

"Any community is diminished by a homicide ... and Wichita certainly no different than any other community in the country," Bassham said.

A candlelight vigil is scheduled to take place Sunday evening in Wichita's Old Town Square to show support for Tiller's family.

President Obama issued a statement saying he was "shocked and outraged" by the killing, and saying such actions cannot help settle the debate over abortion.

"I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning," he said. "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, which supports abortion rights, decried the killing of Tiller as a form of terrorism.

"If they think that by killing Dr. Tiller they are going to stop women's access to abortions, they're wrong … because there will be another doctor, and another, and another," she told ABC News Radio. "These people are organized. ...They're raising money and funding domestic terrorism."

Anti-Abortion Rights Groups Condemn Tiller Killing

Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion rights group that has denounced the practices of Tiller for years and staged mercy demonstrations outside the clinic in the summer of 1991, also condemned the murder.

"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," the organization said in a statement. "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller's family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ."

However, a statement by Operation Rescue's founder, Randall Terry, sounded a more fiery note.

"George Tiller was a mass-murderer," Terry's statement said. "We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder."

Pat Turner, 83, a member of the Wichita chapter of the Right to Life of Kansas organization and a 30-year anti-abortion-rights activist who attended many protests outside of Tiller's clinic, told ABCNews.com that the doctor's death was far from what any organization in Wichita prayed for.

"We abhorred all the things that he did, but we don't believe that it's in our power to take someone else's life," she said. "We have prayed and worked to change his heart and change the laws that have been made ... [but] we feel as though he should be judged in the courts. God will have his day of judgment for sure, but it's not up to us to do that."

A statement from Tiller on the Women's Health Care Services clinic Web site offered a window into the doctor's views on abortion and women rights.

"Women and Families are intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and ethically competent to struggle with complex health issues -- including abortion -- and come to decisions that are appropriate for themselves," Tiller wrote.