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Abortion Clinic Quiet, Tense After Slaying of Doctor

By Michele Salcedo
Newsday

PENSACOLA, Fla.

The day after David Gunn was slain outside an abortion clinic here, the blinds were drawn and the area was quiet, but tension hung in the air.

A squad car was parked in front of the gray wood building that housed the clinic, which opened in October, to make sure it stayed quiet.

A bouquet of purple and yellow mums lay on the sidewalk behind Pensacola Women's Medical Services, where Gunn, 47, the only physician known to perform abortions in Pensacola, was killed. Police said he was hit in the back by three of four shots fired by Michael Griffin, 31, a skilled worker at the local Monsanto plant.

Griffin, who confessed to police immediately after the shooting, was arraigned via a closed-circuit television hookup between the Escambia County jail and courthouse. He is being held on an open count of murder. County Judge William Green denied Griffin's motion for reduced bail and ordered him held without bond, said Maribelle Beckham, a court clerk.

The killing shocked residents of Pensacola, where the abortion debate has been heated and at times violent.

"It's so cold-blooded," said James Keough, 60, who retired from the Navy and came to live in Pensacola 15 years ago. "I just can't understand people doing it. I don't believe in abortion but people have a right to their own beliefs. It's a depressing thing, to think a guy got killed here by a gun. Some kid getting killed over dope, you can overlook that, but this you can't overlook."

Police said there were no reports of anti-abortion demonstrations Thursday, but local abortion rights advocates held a candlelight vigil Thursday night at the Ladies Center. The center, one of several clinics where Gunn saw patients and performed as many as 20 abortions a day, was one of three offices bombed by anti-abortion activists in 1984 and has been the scene of numerous protests.

John Burt, a lay minister and organizer of the protest at Gunn's clinic that drew Griffin Wednesday, said the intensity surrounding the abortion debate in Pensacola has hung in the air for 15 years.

"The climate now is one of disbelief and fear, of people thinking this could never happen," Burt said. "No babies will die for the next three or four weeks. It's something good coming out of something bad."

Knots of women appeared and disappeared near the clinic, which will be closed at least until Monday. Calls to the clinic, Pensacola Women's Medical Services, were being forwarded to Family Planning of Fort Walton, a neighboring community.

"We're having business as usual," said a woman who answered the phone at Family Planning but declined to give her name. She confirmed that women who had had appointments with Gunn were being seen at Family Plannmng until Women's Services reopened.

Lerissa Rowe, who works in Monsanto's human resources department, said Griffin had been suspended without pay Tuesday from his job where polymer flake, a component of nylon carpet fiber, is made. Rowe said Griffin had worked at Monsanto since February 1990.

"He was an average employee," she said. "There was nothing unusual in his file."

At the Ladies Center, another woman who answered the phone but declined to give her name said many people had called to express their support.

"In some people it might (induce fear) but it just makes other people angry they could do such a thing," she said.

Ruth Edwards, president of the Pensacola chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the candlelight vigil was held "for the escorts and staff and friends, to start a little healing."

The escorts are volunteers who walk clinic clients through the phalanx of anti-abortion demonstrators.

"It requires a lot of energy to deal with the verbal abuse and you're always afraid of something like this," she said, referring to Gunn's death. "What can you do, wear a bulletproof vest? I don't know of any training that could have avoided this. I'm hoping the people of this city will say this is it."