Dec 30, 1994: An Anti-Abortion Activist Goes on a Murder Spree

John C. Salvi III, shortly after his arrest.

John Salvi III walks into two separate abortion clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, and shoots workers with a rifle, killing two receptionists and wounding five other employees. He was captured the next day after firing 23 shots at a Norfolk, Virginia, medical clinic.

Salvi, who worked in a beauty salon in New Hampshire before his murderous rampage, was described by acquaintances as a “very odd” man. Despite his increasingly erratic behavior, Salvi’s parents resisted getting professional treatment for him. As his mental state deteriorated, he became a zealous anti-abortion activist.

In March 1996, Salvi’s trial jury rejected his insanity defense and convicted him of murder. After receiving two life sentences, he killed himself in prison in November 1996.

However, the fallout from Salvi’s attack did not end there. Richard Seron, one of the shooting victims, filed a lawsuit against the clinic’s landlord for failing to provide security measures Seron claimed would have prevented the attack. After losing that suit, Seron enraged abortion providers by lobbying against a law that would establish a buffer zone outside clinics. He further antagonized pro-choice activists by filing a lawsuit against Planned Parenthood, claiming that he was entitled to a $100,000 reward for assisting in the capture of John Salvi.

But even Richard Seron did not inspire as much public ire as Deborah Gaines, who was scheduled to have an abortion at one of the clinics on the day of the shooting. After the incident, she couldn’t go through with the abortion and decided to have the child. She later sued the clinic for wrongful life, arguing that the clinic should pay the costs of raising the child since their alleged negligence prevented her abortion. The case, however, was dismissed before trial.

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