BROOKLINE, Mass., Dec. 30 -- A gunman dressed in black opened fire with a rifle inside two abortion clinics in a Boston suburb Friday, killing two women and wounding five other people, two of them critically. Planned Parenthood, which operates one of the clinics, said it had asked the Justice Department two weeks ago to post U.S. marshals at the facility because of repeated threats from anonymous callers. The clinic is a federal test site for the French abortion pill RU- 486. Gov. William Weld immediately offered to send state troopers to guard abortion clinics across Massachusetts, and President Clinton ordered the FBI to investigate the shootings. All seven victims were gunned down within minutes Friday morning at the Planned Parenthood and Pre-Term clinics, which are about a mile and a half apart in Brookline, just west of Boston. State and local police and FBI agents immediately mounted a massive manhunt for the gunman, who was described as white, about 6 feet tall, 30-years-old and dressed in a black coat and black pants. Anti-abortion demonstrators were holding protests outside both clinics when the shootings began and several protesters were questioned by police, but no arrests were made. Because the shootings occurred within such a short period, there was speculation there may have been more than one gunman. But investigators were quoted as saying they were confident both were committed by the same man. Witnesses said the gunman opened fire with what appeared to be a .22- caliber hunting rifle inside the Planned Parenthood Clinic on Beacon Street just after 10 a.m., fatally shooting a receptionist and wounding three other people before fleeing.
About 10 minutes later, he walked into the Pre-Term Clinic, where witnesses said he shot three other people, one of them five times. A security guard at the clinic reportedly fired back at the gunman, but it was not immediately known if the assailant was wounded. No weapon was recovered, but the gunman dropped a duffle bag containing several clips of bullets, police said. 'It's a terrible, terrible tragedy,' said Nicki Nichols Gamble, president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. The dead were identified as Shannon Lowney, 25, of suburban Arlington, the receptionist at the Planned Parenthood Clinic, and Leanne Nichols, 32, of Salem, N.H., an employee at the Pre-Term Clinic. The wounded, three men and two women, were being treated at two nearby Boston hospitals. Two were reported in critical but stable condition after undergoing surgery for multiple gunshot wounds at Beth Israel Hospital. The others were listed in fair condition at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Witnesses said the victims included at least two escorts, people who assist patients seeking abortion counseling at the clinics. About 200 people held a candlelight vigil outside the Planned Parenthood Clinic Friday night and bunches of flowers were left on the steps of the Pre-Term Clinic. Gamble said the threats telephoned to the Planned Parenthood clinic in recent weeks were 'very serious' and 'out of the ordinary.' 'We have good security, but clearly it wasn't good enough this morning,' she said. One witness said he was sitting inside the Pre-Term Clinic when a man carrying a duffle bag came in and asked a receptionist if it was the Pre-Term. When the woman answered yes, the man took out what appeared to be a 'big hunting rifle' and shot her and another woman at a copying machine. 'I yelled for the security guard,' said the witness, who ran into a nearby room. 'He came and he was shot in the arm.' The clinics have been the scene of protests by anti-abortion groups for years, but Gamble said there was no way of knowing at this point if the shootings were in any way connected to those groups. The Planned Parenthood facility, which reportedly performs 3,000 abortions a year, is one of 12 clinics nationwide recently chosen by the federal government to test the controversial French abortion pill, and there was speculation that the tests may have spurred the gunman. The shootings follow two highly publicized fatal shootings at abortion clinics in Florida over the past two years. Former Presbyterian minister Paul Hill has been sentenced to die in the electric chair for the murders of Dr. John Britton and his unarmed escort, retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Barrett. The two men were shot July 29 outside the Ladies Center Clinic in Pensacola, Fla. In March, Michael Griffin was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of Dr. David Gunn. Gunn was shot three times in the back from point-blank range as he arrived for work at the Pensacola Women's Medical Services clinic on March 10, 1993. In Washington, Clinton ordered Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh to conduct a thorough investigation into the Brookline attack. 'No matter where we stand on the issue of abortion, all Americans must stand together in condemning this tragic and brutal act,' Clinton said in a written statement. 'We must protect the safety and freedom of all our citizens. I am strongly committed to ending this form of domestic terrorism,' Clinton said. 'We will do whatever we can to prevent a reoccurrence,' Reno told reporters in Washington, but declined to give details of the investigation. Weld said he was 'sickened and infuriated' by the shootings, which he said were intended to intimidate women seeking health-care services. He called the gunman a 'terrorist' and said state troopers would be assigned to guard any abortion clinic in the state if local police request them. Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston called the shootings 'reprehensible acts of violence with absolutely no justification whatsoever.' 'These wanton slayings must not be allowed to escalate hostility,' the cardinal said, and he urged the anti-abortion movement to refrain temporarily from 'prayerful presence at abortion clinics.' Abortion-rights groups called on law enforcement officials to protect clinics. 'I am outraged by this violence,' said Pamela J. Maraldo, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 'How often will women and health care providers be the target of murderers? How long will we stand by as a nation and allow violence to stalk our homes, allow terrorists to come into our clinics?' The anti-abortion Americans United for Life said it 'emphatically condemns all violence at abortion clinics.' 'Today's shooting is a lawless act, regardless of who the assailant is, or what his motive was,' said the group's president, Paige Cunningham. But Kim Grandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, said anti-abortion groups and 'the Catholic Church leadership' bore some responsibility for the shootings because of their 'continued use of inflammatory rhetoric...designed to provoke this kind of violence.'