At Nearby Shopping Center, a Scene of Fear and Chaos

2099

COLORADO SPRINGS — The injured man staggered into the grocery store, his face and chest bloodied. Customers stopped and stared. “He lifted his shirt up and he had holes in his chest,” said Miranda Schilter, 17, who had been waiting for a drink at an in-store coffee shop.

When a gunman opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic here on Friday just before noon, he turned a snow-covered shopping center bustling with post-Thanksgiving traffic into a scene of chaos and fear.

By the end of the day, three people were dead, nine were injured, and the police had taken the gunman, whom several law enforcement officials identified as Robert Lewis Dear, into custody.

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Mr. Dear, 57, was being held without bond on Saturday at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center. Jail records said he was scheduled to appear in court on Monday. Mr. Dear, whom the authorities described as 6 feet 4 inches tall and 250 pounds, appeared to have ties to the Carolinas. Police said they have no motive for the shooting.

By Saturday morning, police had reopened the roads around the Planned Parenthood clinic and surrounding businesses, said Kim Melchor, a spokeswoman for the city of Colorado Springs. The police had spent several hours examining cars in the parking lots to make sure they were safe.

When the shooting began Friday, Ms. Schilter dove behind the coffee counter at the grocery store. A woman who identified herself as a nurse rushed to the help the bloodied man who had just walked in.

As the nurse held the man’s hand, he told people that he had been shot by a man in the parking lot between the Planned Parenthood clinic and the grocery store.

“He was just so much in shock,” said Taylor White, 23, who was in the store. “He was like: Some crazy person out there is shooting people.”

As the shots rang out, employees and customers at businesses around the Planned Parenthood — a bank, a beauty supply center, a nursing home — quickly locked their doors, hiding behind walls and sending frantic missives to parents, spouses and children. Most would remain there for hours, some occasionally catching glimpses of the prolonged gun battle; others followed on television or their mobile phones. Most tried to reach out to friends or family.

At Sally Beauty Supply, Sydney Downey, 20, ticked off a text message to her boyfriend, Alexander Williams, 26.

“Someones opening fire,” she wrote.

“Whaaaat the?” he replied, adding an expletive.

“At least two three dozen rounds already,” she texted back.

“I’m assuming you called the cops already?” he replied. “Just stay down.”

Not far away, at a nursing home and rehabilitation center called The Center at Centennial, an employee named Sandy Berryman, 57, had brought her granddaughter, Gaby Choplin, 6, to work.

“One of our coworkers told us: Stay in your office, I think we’re on lockdown, there’s been a shooting,” Ms. Berryman said later. She shoved Gaby into a windowless office. Two other people at the center saw police snipers ascend to the upper levels of the building.

“I would look out, and there would be all the police, all the rifles running around,” Ms. Berryman said. “It was all right there in front of us.”

Outside the rehabilitation center, Kenny Lane, 80, said he was frantically trying to get in touch with his wife of 53 years, who was a patient there. “I got pretty close to the Planned Parenthood,” he said. “And a lady was coming out and she said: Turn around and leave, because there is an active shooter.”

Back at the the grocery store, it took about an hour for officials to determine it was safe for the bloodied man to leave, said several witnesses.

“He was escorted out of the building to be taken to the hospital,” said Daniel Robb, 27, who works at the store’s sushi counter.

Officials told the rest of the group to stay behind. Donuts and sandwiches appeared and Mr. Robb continued rolling sushi, unsure of what else to do. Lou Sears, 64, a Vietnam veteran, found an Iraq veteran. “We talked all afternoon,” Mr. Sears said.

Jane Delaney, 65, a customer, took a seat on a bag of dog food while her husband Jim Sweeney, 66, headed elsewhere in the store. “I was just looking at a poinsettia plant and Jim ran in and said: There’s been a shooting,” she said.

Hours passed. Beyond the doors of the grocery store, police engaged in a gun battle with the suspect, , at one point ramming a BearCat armored vehicle into the Planned Parenthood building and rescuing some of the people inside.

At 4:52 p.m., police announced they had the gunman in custody.

Soon, officers arrived at the grocery store, the bank and other establishments, and told people it was over. They were loaded onto buses — their cars would be left in the lot, they were told, to be inspected for bombs — and their family members would meet them at a nearby furniture store.

The store filled with waiting parents, spouses and children, who lounged on new couches amid holiday decorations. Christmas carols played. Snow fell outside. The buses arrived.

People poured out. Among them was Ms. Schilter, the woman at the grocery store. Her boyfriend, Jackson Ricker, 18, placed his arms around her waist and his chin on her shoulder and noted that Ms. Schilter had witnessed a different shooting a few weeks earlier when a heavily armed man shot and killed a bicyclist and two women in the downtown. “The first time she cried,” said Mr. Ricker, looking at his dry-eyed girlfriend. “She’s a veteran now.”