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1 dead, 1 critical in clinic bombing

charred building

FBI looks for links between Birmingham, Atlanta blasts

January 29, 1998
Web posted at: 5:13 p.m. EST (2213 GMT)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- A security guard was killed and a nurse was severely injured Thursday morning when a bomb exploded at a Birmingham women's clinic. It was believed to be the first fatal clinic bombing in U.S. history.

Using a robot, authorities searched for a possible second device but, by mid-afternoon, had not found another bomb.

Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were dispatched from Atlanta to investigate the blast and determine if it might be linked to a series of bombings in Atlanta during the last 18 months, one of which was aimed at a women's clinic.

vxtreme Midday news conference by federal officials in Atlanta

In the wake of Thursday's bombing, women's clinics in Alabama and Atlanta increased security.

Off-duty officer dies

The blast ripped through the New Woman, All Women Health Care Clinic at 7:33 a.m., shattering the windows in the two-story facility, blowing away an awning and leaving black smudge marks on the gray brick structure. The clinic offers family planning counseling and abortion services.

Further investigation of the site -- ATF spokesman Brian Lett explains
icon 289K/26 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
Birmingham Police spokesman Moody McDuff reviews the latest suspect information
icon 281K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The victims in the blast were identified as an off-duty Birmingham police officer, who was moonlighting at the clinic as a security guard, and a nurse who worked at the clinic, said Birmingham Police Lt. Donald Toole. The officer was killed, an FBI spokesman said. The 41-year-old nurse was in critical condition, according to a University of Alabama Hospital spokeswoman.

The clinic is near the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Students living in UAB dormitories were awakened by the blast, and two dorms were evacuated for a short time while authorities searched for a second device.

Explosion heard for miles

"It felt like lightening had hit the building," said student Lindsey Thompson. Witnesses reported smoke coming out of the clinic after the blast.

"It sounded like a truck hit the side of the building," said Cindy Wallace, who works near the clinic.

A pharmacist in the area who witnessed the blast, Anthony Romeo, said he received calls from friends in Homewood, several miles away, saying they had heard the explosion.

Bystanders frightened by the blast  

A block away, the force of the impact "knocked stuff off the wall" at a similar facility, the Summit Medical Care clinic, said Michele Wilson, a clinic volunteer.

A regular anti-abortion protester at the New Woman clinic was across the street when the explosion occurred and was questioned, said David Lackey, leader of an anti-abortion group who went to the scene. He called the explosion a "heinous act."

Alabama Gov. Fob James also denounced the bombing.

"If, in fact, today's explosion is the result of a bomb, I cannot think of any more cowardly and reprehensible act," said James. He offered "any and all state assistance" to solve the crime.

Clinic on Roe anniversary protest route

The New Woman clinic has been operating for 11 years and has been at its present site for four years. An anti-abortion march on Saturday, in observance of the 25th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision that legalized abortion, went past the clinic.

The clinic that was bombed was one of four Alabama abortion providers that have sued to overturn two new state laws that restrict late-term abortions. On Monday, a federal judge in Montgomery refused the clinics' request to put the laws on hold until the case is resolved.


Though five people have been shot to death at such clinics since 1993 and a number of clinics have been bombed over the years, the death in Birmingham is believed to be the first fatality ever from a clinic bombing.

"This is the first death that we have seen from a bombing of an abortion clinic," said Vicki Saporta, director of the National Abortion Federation, an abortion rights group. ATF spokesman B.J. Zapor also said there had been no deaths from bombings since the bureau began tracking clinic violence in 1982.

Links to other bombings explored

A year ago, two bombs were placed outside a women's clinic in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, going off an hour apart. Seven people were injured in the second blast, which investigators say they believe may have been designed to kill and injure law enforcement officers responding to the first bomb.

A month later, two other bombs were found at a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta. One exploded, injuring several bystanders. Police found the second bomb and detonated it. A group calling itself the Army of God claimed responsibility, but no arrests have been made.

FBI and ATF officials have said there are some similarities between those bombings and a blast at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympic Games, which killed one woman and injured more than 100 other people.

A special FBI task force set up to investigate the Atlanta bombings will be looking to see if there is a connection to Thursday's blast in Birmingham, which is about 150 miles to the west.

"We don't know yet. We just don't have enough details to really have a gut feeling," said FBI Special Agent Jack Daulton, head of the task force.


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