An Illinois man was charged Wednesdaywith setting fire to a Planned Parenthood clinic as the FBI asks for the public's help in investigating a spate of unsolved attacks against reproductive health facilities nationwide.
Tyler W. Massengill, 32, of Chillicothe, just north of Peoria in central Illinois, was arrested Tuesday after being accused of "malicious use of fire and an explosive to damage, and attempt to damage" the Peoria clinic, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
Massengill faces up to 40 years in prison with a minimum sentence of five years if he is convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"The fact that providers and patients are forced to endure this is outrageous, especially when patients have to go through so much already just to access the basic health care they need," said Melissa Fowler, chief program officer at the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers.
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Security camera footage showed a man approach the clinic with a bottle, light a rag on one side of the bottle, smash a window and put the device inside the building before running away, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
Massengill initially denied responsibility for the fire, investigators said. But later, authorities said he confessed.
He told investigators he was upset his then-girlfriend had an abortion three years ago, according to a U.S. District Court criminal complaint. He said if his actions cause "a little delay" in a person receiving services at the clinic, it may have been "all worth it," the complaint said.
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No patients or staff members were inside the building at the time of the blaze, said Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. But the fire caused "extensive" damage that will cost more than $1 million and force the health center to shutter for months, Welch said.
"This senseless act of vandalism has robbed the community of access to birth control, cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment and gender-affirming care, as well as medication abortion services," Welch said, adding that she is "pleased an arrest has been made."
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FBI offers $25,000 for help in unsolved attacks on clinics
The FBI is offering rewards of up to $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest in a spate of unsolved attacks and threats on reproductive health facilities, the agency announced in a statement.
From Portland to Amherst, New York, the FBI is investigating at least 10 attacks on reproductive health facilities nationwide in the past year. These attacks include vandalisms and arsons.
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Rising reports of violence against clinics
In 2021, abortion providers saw a 600% increase in stalking, a 129% increase in invasions and a 128% increase in assaults and battery compared to the year before, according to a report released in May 2022 by the National Abortion Federation, the U.S. professional association of abortion providers. Assaults rose from 15 in 2018 to 123 in 2021, the report said.
Since 1977, when NAF began collecting this data, the organization has reported 11 murders, 42 bombings, 196 arsons and 491 assaults targeting patients, providers and volunteers at abortion clinics.
Fowler said there was a "a significant spike in online harassment, protester activity and aggressiveness" since the leak of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Incidents have included people taking photos of staff and patients and following, harassing and threatening them, Fowler said. People have stood outside clinics with guns, posed as patients to get into clinics in order to obstruct care and set fire to buildings, she said.
"Staff have been hurt and scared and traumatized," Fowler said. "... It takes an emotional toll for people enduring this behavior during their workday and for people who are seeking health care."
Most abortion care providers have long been trained to expect violence "as part of our everyday jobs," wrote Dr. Colleen P. McNicholas, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri in St. Louis, Mo., in a USA TODAY opinion column published this month.
The column also made note of the killings of abortion care providers and clinic staff members and volunteers, including Dr. George Tiller in 2009. In 2016, a gunman opened fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, killing three people and injuring nine.
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Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact Christine Fernando at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Illinois man arrested, accused of starting Peoria Planned Parenthood fire