July/August, 1998 Volume XIII Number 1
FBI calls stink attacks at clinics a "hate crime" -- 10 occur in one week
Miami, FL -- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local investigators are searching for links on between two butyric acid attacks on abortion clinics in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, five more in Miami, and three earlier ones in central Florida, calling them hate crimes and a possible sign that the state could face a summer of anti-abortion violence.
"We're interviewing potential witnesses. We're asking for the public's help ... We're processing our evidence, and of course just continuing through our logical investigation," said Anne Figueiras, spokeswoman for the FBI in Miami.
"This is our jurisdiction under the (U.S.) civil rights act. It's a hate crime," Figueiras said. She said the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances act, which protects access to abortion clinics, also would apply.
On May 23, two abortuaries were sprayed with butyric acid through holes drilled in the building's doors. One of the clinics was in St. Petersburg, the other in Clearwater.
On May 21, someone attacked five Miami area abortuaries by splashing them with butyric acid, a pungent industrial solvent that smells like vomit and irritates the eyes and skin.
Less than a week earlier on May 16, three clinics in central Florida - two in the Daytona Beach area and one in Orlando - were subject to a similar attack, as someone drilled through their walls and sprayed the same noxious substance inside.
Investigators believe the acid was deposited overnight in various ways: spilled under a door, poured through a mail slot, lobbed through an open window. In the recent Daytona Beach attacks, holes were drilled in window frames and the acid was deposited with a syringe.
Police said vandals working under cover of darkness hit two abortion offices in Little Havana, one in South Miami, another near Coconut Grove and a fifth in South Dade.
Employees opening the clinics were struck by fumes from puddles of butyric acid.
There were no injuries in any of the acid attacks, although several people in Miami experienced respiratory problems.
Law officers and abortion rights supporters said the attacks might signify a stepped-up campaign of violence by fringe anti-abortion forces in Florida.
The Miami-area attacks were the first-ever physical violence against a Miami-Dade abortion clinic, although there have been loud protests and letter campaigns in the past.
"Law enforcement has to take the posture that we've had eight (attacks) in a few days, we've got to prepare ourselves for more," said Fred Hobbs, a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which joined with U.S. agents in investigating the crimes, after the second incodent.
"Just based on the fact that the two happened timewise very close to each other, there is every indication that they could be related," he said, although he added that it was impossible to know now whether the attacks were linked.
Phil Ramer, special agent in charge of the Office of Statewide Intelligence for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said, "Whether it's a copycat assailant or the same people as in Orlando, we're not sure.''
"Can I for certain say it was the same group? Absolutely not,'' said South Miami Police Captain Greg Feldman of the attack in his city. "Is there information that would give rise to the inference that it's the same people? Absolutely.''
Investigators said they were surprised at the first news of the butyric acid attacks. The acid, available at chemical warehouses, has been used against U.S. abortion clinics with some frequency but had not been seen in Florida for years.
At one clinic, a secretary saw a suspect, described as a white man in his 30s, when he burst in and spilled more of the acid just after she finished cleaning up the first spill.
State police said they were more concerned after the Miami attacks because they took place when people were in the clinics.
"We're very involved in this," said a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which sent agents from its Office of Statewide Intelligence to investigate.
One Miami news agency reported that police had seized a burgundy rental car that reeked of butyric acid which might be connected to the attacks.
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FBI calls stink attacks at clinics "hate crime"