WICHITA, Kansas Late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, a prominent advocate for abortion rights wounded by a protester more than a decade ago, was shot and killed Sunday at his church in Wichita, his attorney said.
A Wichita city official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the case, said a suspect was taken into custody later Sunday. The official would not provide additional details. Earlier, police had said they were looking for a gunman who fled in a 1993 light blue Ford Taurus registered in the Kansas City suburb of Merriam, Kan.
Attorney Dan Monnat said Tiller, 67, was shot as he served as an usher during morning services at Reformation Lutheran Church. Monnat said Tiller's wife, Jeanne, was in the choir at the time of the shooting.
The women's clinic run by Tiller is one of three in the nation where abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy, when the fetus is considered viable, and has repeatedly been the site of protests for about two decades. A protester shot Tiller in both arms in 1993, and his clinic was bombed in 1985.
Monnat said Sunday that Tiller had asked federal prosecutors to step up investigations of vandalism and other threats against the clinic out of fear that the incidents were increasing and that Tiller's safety was in jeopardy.
Tiller's attorneys issued 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. This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace," the statement said.
"Our loss is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality heath care despite frequent threats and violence."
Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue issued a statement denouncing the shooting.
"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," said Troy Newman, Operation Rescue's president. "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."
Tiller remained prominent in the news in recent years, in part because of an investigation started begun by former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an abortion opponent.
"I am stunned by this lawless and violent act, which must be condemned and should be met with the full force of law," Kline said in a written statement. "We join in lifting prayer that God's grace and presence rest with Dr. Tiller's family and friends."
Prosecutors had alleged that Tiller had gotten second opinions from a doctor who was essentially an employee of his, not independent as state law requires. A jury in March acquitted Tiller of all 19 misdemeanor counts.
Abortion opponents also questioned then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' ties to Tiller before the Senate confirmed her this year as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary. Tiller donated thousands of dollars to Sebelius over the years.
As one of the few doctors in the nation to perform late-term abortions, Tiller had been a high-profile target of abortion opponents for decades. His clinic, Women's Health Care Services, was bombed in 1985, and Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993 by abortion protester Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon of Grants Pass, Ore.
In 1991, the Summer of Mercy protests organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of anti-abortion activists to this city for demonstrations marked by civil disobedience and mass arrests.
After those protests, Tiller kept mostly to his heavily guarded clinic, although in 1997 he opened it to three tours by state lawmakers and the media.