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Colorado Springs shooting suspect lived solitary, mysterious life

November 28, 2015 Updated: November 30, 2015 at 12:19 am
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photo - The home of Robert Lewis Dear Jr. near Hartsel. Photo by Lance Benzel, The Gazette.
The home of Robert Lewis Dear Jr. near Hartsel. Photo by Lance Benzel, The Gazette. 

HARTSEL - For years, Robert Lewis Dear Jr. sought solitude - living in East Coast mountain cabins without electricity or in a travel trailer along the rolling prairies of South Park.

A hazy picture of Dear, 57, began to emerge Saturday, a day after investigators say he stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic in west Colorado Springs and shot at officers during a five-hour standoff that left three people dead and nine wounded. 

Hints of anti-abortion zealotry emerged when national news outlets reported Dear told investigators "no more baby parts" upon his surrender. The remark appeared to reference videos released over the summer by an anti-abortion group depicting Planned Parenthood's practice of using fetal tissue for research.

The revelation, which was first reported by NBC News, could not be independently confirmed by The Gazette. Dear also reportedly mentioned several other topics to investigators, including President Barack Obama. A clear motive remained unknown.

Dear, of Hartsel in central Colorado, is being held without bond in the El Paso County jail. His first court appearance is Monday.

At his previous home in South Carolina, Dear had repeated run-ins with law enforcement. There, his ex-wife lamented word of the shootings when reached by The Post and Courier.

"I know everyone has a lot of questions," Pamela Ross told the Charleston, S.C., newspaper. "We all do. ... We're living it just as everyone else is." She declined further comment to the publication.

Most recently, Dear lived in a travel trailer with a woman and at least two dogs in South Park Ranches, a subdivision with scattered5-acre lots, small cabins and trailers about 65 miles west of Colorado Springs.

A small black cross adorned the front of his home, just like his former property in South Carolina.

A wooden lean-to, a crude storage shed, and an all-terrain vehicle were inside a chickenwire fence encircling his trailer. Some firewood was stacked beside the trailer, and parts of tree limbs and other wood were layered decoratively outside the wire fence.

Headlights filled the horizon around 1:30 a.m. Saturday as law enforcement converged on Dear's property, 809 Ouray Court, said Zigmond Post, a neighbor living a quarter-mile away. They sat outside the property and waited for hours, said Lisa Hawkins, another neighbor.

At least twice Saturday morning, someone opened a door at Dear's trailer to let out his dogs, a neighbor said.

In daylight, the action began - with officers bringing vehicles closer to his trailer. About 10:30 a.m., Post heard a pop or a bang.

"It was a loud blast like a hunting rifle," he said.

Hawkins, who also heard the bang, said a bomb robot was deployed after the noise sounded, though she didn't see signs someone was taken from the property.

Law enforcement officers refused to disclose details of their search, or say whether arrests were made. But the Associated Press reported that no explosives were found at the residence and that officers spoke to the woman living there.

Authorities cleared out of the area Saturday afternoon. Park County sheriff's SUVs, at least one ambulance and a Colorado Springs police command center vehicle were among the vehicles that responded to Dear's property.

Amid the activity, neighbors said Dear was a mystery.

Post met Dear in May, shortly after Post bought his property and began erecting a 320-square-foot "tiny home." Dear lived about a quarter-mile away and approached him with some "anti-Obama pamphlets," he said.

"He gave us Obama pamphlets within 5 minutes of us talking to him," Post said.

The two only exchanged small talk - most recently at the local post office Wednesday morning.

"I just said 'Hey, how's it going,'" Post said. Dear replied "Not bad, how are you?"

"All I ever saw him do was drive around in his truck and pick up firewood off the side of the road," Post said.

At the Highline Cafe and Saloon, one of the few businesses at the town's main intersection, Dear was just one more reclusive customer in a community filled with them, said owner Jamie Heffelman.

"He's just a very quiet person," Heffelman said. "Never interacted with anybody. He came in and ate and drank and went to the post office and the gas station. No problems ever."

Dear's rustic property is typical of small, makeshift dwellings that surround the town, said Heffelman's husband, Van Wands, who called Hartsel a magnet for loners.

"People live in tents, Tuff Sheds, trailer houses," Wands said. "They're here for a reason. Some want to be left alone. Some are here because it's cheap. Some are here because they have no other options."

The real estate agent who sold Dear his property, Delores Cole, said Dear and a woman he lived with were "pleasant" during the property transaction.

"I saw him really very little," she said, adding that the sale was completed in October 2014, within a month of when Dear first stopped in her office to inquire about property.

He didn't mention politics or give her reason to fear him, she said.

"It's just beyond imagination why people do things."

Park County voter registration records for Dear, from Colorado Voters Info, show he is registered as an unaffiliated female and considered an "active voter."

Dear was not a protester at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, said Joseph Martone Jr., who regularly attends prayer services outside the building on Centennial Boulevard.

Martone said Dear's name was not familiar to members of the Colorado Springs Respect Life group that meets twice weekly for Mass at the Planned Parenthood on the mornings the clinic reportedly does surgical abortions.

"Nobody seems to know him," Martone said.

Dear is from South Carolina and also lived in North Carolina. A slew of Colleton County (South Carolina) Sheriff's Office reports obtained Saturday offered other clues about his past. A 2004 report alluded to a son and listed Dear's occupation as a self-employed art dealer. He complained in other reports of vandalism and theft, which he blamed on former tenants.

He has arrest records in both states, including two counts of cruelty to animals in 2002. Court records show Dear was found not guilty during a bench trial for the misdemeanor charges. He also faced peeping tom charges in 2002 in Colleton, S.C., but the charges were dismissed.

In 1997, his then-wife alleged he assaulted her and locked her out of their home. When she sneaked in through a window, he hit her and pushed her out a window, according a sheriff's report. She did not press charges but asked police make a record of the attack.

He also once lived in North Carolina in a mountain cabin where he kept mostly to himself, living with no electricity or running water on a winding dirt road about 15 miles west of Asheville, the Associated Press reported.

"If you talked to him, nothing with him was very cognitive - topics all over the place," James Russell, who lived a few hundred feet away, told the news service.

Dear would often avoid eye contact. Still, Russell said religion or abortion never came up in conversation, the Associated Press reported.

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Gazette reporter Debbie Kelley contributed to this report.

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