An explosion caused by a bomb ripped through an abortion clinic Thursday morning, killing an off-duty police officer and critically injuring a nurse. It was believed to be the first fatal clinic bombing in U.S. history.
Authorities evacuated students at nearby dormitories of the University of Alabama at Birmingham out of concern a second bomb could detonate.The blast at the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic came just a week after the nation marked the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
The dead man, whose name was not released, was a city policeman who also worked as a guard at the clinic, Police Chief Mike Coppage said.
The injured woman, a nurse, was in critical condition, said University of Alabama Hospital spokeswoman Laura Mansfield.
Brian Lett of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms confirmed that the explosion was caused by a bomb. No second explosive device was found, but the area around the clinic remained secured at midday, officials said.
"We still have a hot scene. We're being very cautious because of what happened in Atlanta," Lett said.
A year ago, two bombs went off an hour apart at a clinic in Atlanta; all seven injuries were in the second blast. That bombing is still unsolved.
Members of the Atlanta Bomb Task Force, which is investigating the clinic bombings as well as bombings at the 1996 Olympics and a gay nightclub, headed to Birmingham Thursday.
The search for a possible second bomb was complicated because dogs sniffing for the scent of a bomb kept finding remnants of the one that exploded.
Five people have been shot to death at abortion clinics, one in 1993 and four in 1994. While many clinics around the country have been bombed over the years, no fatalities are known.
President Clinton condemned the bombing as "an unforgivable act that strikes at the heart of the constitutional freedoms and invidual liberties all Americans hold dear."
Windows in the two-story clinic were blown out and an awning over the door was ripped apart. Black debris was blown into the street, and windows of an office building across the street were shattered.
A block away, a second abortion clinic, the Summit Medical Care clinic, felt the impact. "It knocked stuff off the wall," said Michele Wilson, a volunteer at the clinic.
Students at UAB dormitories around the area were getting ready for classes when they heard the blast. "It felt like lightning had hit the building," Lindsey Thompson of Huntsville said.
After hearing the explosion, she looked out her dorm room. "Smoke was coming out of the building, and then people started coming toward the building," Thompson said.