Find the perfect moment to take out the gunman with a burst of well-placed shots. But take no chances of hitting one of his hostages by mistake.
For hours, officers sweated over that task together as they talked over police radio. And they wracked their brains Friday over how to safely shuttle out hostages from a Planned Parenthood clinic held siege by a gunman in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Their tactical conversations, squawking on police scanner, went out over the Internet via streaming services like broadcastify.com, and tens of thousands of people listened in as the opportune moment to pick off the gunman eluded officers again and again.
‘Cold stone face’
Scanner conversations are a collection of puzzle pieces — outtakes that can contain misunderstandings — and not the complete story, which investigators are still piecing together.
The shooter’s motives are not yet clear, nor have authorities said whether the siege was a targeted attack on the clinic, which offers family planning services, including abortions. Planned Parenthood has been the target of anti-abortion campaigners.
But the armed man left no doubt from the start that he was deadly. He opened fired while still in the parking lot — unleashing a barrage of bullets with a “cold stone face,” a witness said.
By the end of the day, Robert L. Dear, 57, had allegedly killed three people — one of them an officer — and wounded nine more. Five of the wounded were police officers.
Police talking over their radios agreed they had to stop the gunman to keep him from shooting many other people trapped in the building with him.
‘Got the AK’
“Shots fired!” a warning squawked out over the scanner of the Colorado Springs Police and El Paso County Sheriff not long after law enforcement took up positions at the besieged Planned Parenthood clinic.
An officer had been wounded in the leg. The gunman fired “indiscriminately” through the walls, hitting police, a voice said.
Should we send in a robot to “get eyeballs” on the shooter, a man’s voice asked? Then he reported seeing the gunman jump over a counter and lie down on the floor.
A warning: “It looks like he’s almost waiting, so just use caution.” Then: “He’s coming out! (He’s) got the AK.”
Some officers watched the gunman on video, others through windows, as he ducked out of sight, then back into view. And they, too, ducked and dodged him to avoid getting shot.
As the shooter moved around the clinic with his gun, he appeared at times to be close to hostages — separated from them only by a wall — or dangerously close to officers who had entered the building in search of hostages.
“He would have direct line of sight (on you), if you guys made entry into that hallway,” one officer cautioned others over the scanner, as they worked their way through the building.
‘We’ll come up and get them’
While some officers held the gunman in check, others whisked hostages out of rooms at the Planned Parenthood clinic and into a BearCat armored vehicle waiting outside.
A colleague talked by phone to hostages to instruct them on how to help officers save them. Then she passed information to the officers.
“They said they heard what they described as a truck outside,” the colleague told an officer. “Where do you want them — come right out?”
“Negative,” a man answered. “Just have them stand by, and we’ll come up and get them.”
‘Get more rounds through’
Attempts to pick off the gunman permeated the hours-long scanner exchange, as officers discussed who had the best angle for a shot and what weapon to use.
“If you’ve got an M14 you might be able to get more rounds through from this window. You’ve got a pretty good angle out here,” said a man who bemoaned that his own weapon, a submachine gun was too short-range for the shot.
Then the gunman moved away.
“He’s going back toward that lobby door,” a voice said. The gunman sat down. “He’s digging in his right pocket, and gun’s lying in his lap.”
Then, the perfect moment?
“People watching the video are advising he’s behind the door in the reception and the waiting room,” a voice said.
“Is he alone in the room?” asked another.
“Confirm that he is alone,” a voice affirmed.
Officers discussed what shot to take.
But wait. Part of the building near the gunman had not yet been cleared. They stood down. The gunman would eventually walk out alive.
‘We have our suspect’
After nearly six hours of standoff, alleged shooter Dear surrendered after officers established communication by shouting out to him.
Nearly 63,000 people tuned in on broadcastify.com, when the scanner squawked out the dialog of officers taking him into custody.
“He’s going to come out with his hands up,” a voice said.
“Is everybody ready for this guy to possibly surrender?” a voice asked.
“Now he’s walking toward the hallway.” It appeared his hands were empty.
“We have eyes on him. He is coming toward the front of the business,” the scanner squawked.
“Are we in the way of the snipers?”
“Zero-thirty-nine, we have one suspect detained now.”
“We have our suspect right now. He’s saying that he is a loner; he’s by himself.”
A colleague squawked back, “Good job.”