HARTSEL, Colo. — Robert L. Dear Jr. was a man who lived off the grid.
On this lonely, snow-covered patch of land in a hamlet ringed by the Rocky Mountains, his home was a white trailer, with a forest-green four-wheeler by the front door and a modest black cross painted on one end.
As police officers surrounded it on Saturday, looking for clues to what they said had sent its owner on a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood center that left three dead and nine wounded, neighbors said they barely knew him, beyond one man’s memory of his handing out anti-Obama political pamphlets.
Van Wands, 58, whose wife owns a local saloon, said there were two types of people in the area: the old-timers who put effort into getting to know their neighbors, and the newcomers who wished for solitude. Mr. Dear, he said, fell solidly into the second category.
Robert L. Dear Jr. wanted “to be left alone,” a neighbor said.
El Paso County Sheriff’s Office
“That’d be one that preferred to be left alone,” he said.
A day after the shooting, a portrait emerged of a man with a sporadic record of brushes with the law, neighbors and relatives. In 1997, Mr. Dear’s wife at the time reported to the police that he had locked her out of her home and pushed her out of a window when she tried to climb back in. In 2002, he was arrested after a neighbor complained that he hid in bushes and tried to peer into her house. An online personal ad believed to be posted by Mr. Dear sought partners for sadomasochistic sex.
With Colorado Springs residents telling chilling tales of hours spent hiding in stores near the shootout on Friday, the authorities shed no light publicly on whether they believed Mr. Dear, 57, had deliberately targeted Planned Parenthood. But one senior law enforcement official, who would speak only anonymously about an ongoing investigation, said that after Mr. Dear was arrested, he had said “no more baby parts” in a rambling interview with the authorities.
The official said that Mr. Dear “said a lot of things” during his interview, making it difficult for the authorities to pinpoint a specific motivation.
In Washington, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement that the shooting was “not only a crime against the Colorado Springs community, but a crime against women receiving health care services at Planned Parenthood, law enforcement seeking to protect and serve, and other innocent people. It was also an assault on the rule of law, and an attack on all Americans’ right to safety and security.”
Senior Justice Department officials were looking into whether to move forward with a federal case. Along with examining whether Mr. Dear could be charged with a hate crime, officials were exploring whether he may have violated federal laws intended to protect abortion clinics. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it a crime to use physical force against patients and clinic employees.
President Obama on Saturday again called on America to tackle gun violence. “This is not normal,” he said in a statement. “We can’t let it become normal. If we truly care about this — if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them.”
Mr. Dear, who had surrendered to the police on Friday evening, remained in custody without bond at the El Paso County criminal justice center. Law enforcement records and interviews began to paint a portrait of an itinerant loner who left behind a trail of disputes and occasionally violent acts toward neighbors and women he knew.
His former wife, Pamela Ross, 54, who was with him for 16 years or so and once called the police to accuse him of domestic violence, recalled that Mr. Dear could be angry at times, sometimes with her. But he was the kind who usually followed a flash of anger with an apology, though he was not much for chitchat.
He was an independent art dealer with a degree in public administration from a Midwestern college, she said, who struck deals with artists, mostly Southern ones, who painted Charleston, S.C., street scenes, Old South plantation tableaus, magnolias and pictures of the Citadel campus. He tended to buy the rights to paintings, commission 1,000 or so prints, then market and sell the prints and keep the proceeds.
He was born in Charleston and grew up in Louisville, Ky., but he had strong ties to South Carolina. His father was a graduate of the Citadel, Charleston’s famous public military college. Robert Lewis Dear Sr., the father, died in 2004. He was a Navy veteran who served in World War II and worked 40 years for the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company.
The younger Mr. Dear was raised as a Baptist, Ms. Ross said in an interview in Goose Creek, S.C., where she now lives. He was religious but not a regular churchgoer, a believer but not one to harp on religion. “He believed wholeheartedly in the Bible,” she said. “That’s what he always said; he read it cover to cover to cover.” But he was not fixated on it, she added.
He was generally conservative, but not obsessed with politics. He kept guns around the house for personal protection and hunting, and he taught their son to hunt doves, as many Southern fathers do. He believed that abortion was wrong, but it was not something that he spoke about much. “It was never really a topic of discussion,” she said.
“It never, ever, ever, ever crossed my mind,” she said, that he would be capable of such a thing. “My heart just fell to my stomach.”
Ms. Ross divorced Mr. Dear in 2000. She has since remarried and has seen him only once or twice in 15 years. Their divorce was amicable, and he moved away shortly thereafter, to the Asheville, N.C., region. After the divorce, Mr. Dear had asked her to stay. He eventually took custody of their son, who was 12 at the time. Mr. Dear raised him in North Carolina. Ms. Ross said she had been confident that he would be a good parent and male role model.
She acknowledged that she had once called the police about him but declined to talk about it.
A police incident report shows that in 1997, she told the police that he had locked her out of her home and had “hit her and pushed her out the window” when she tried to climb in. He also shoved her to the ground. The report said she did not want to file charges, but simply “wanted something on record of this incident occurring.”
After his divorce, Mr. Dear lived in a succession of trailer homes and cabins, where he appeared to stir resentments among neighbors and lash out at people around him, according to police reports. Some former neighbors said they were not surprised by the violence in Colorado Springs.
In Swannanoa, N.C., where Mr. Dear had lived for a time in a single-wide trailer, a novelist, Leland Davis, said he had repeatedly been followed by Mr. Dear in a late-model Toyota Tacoma. Mr. Davis believed that Mr. Dear had followed him because he suspected that Mr. Davis had complained to the authorities about how Mr. Dear treated a dog. The men never spoke, Mr. Davis said in an interview in his home Saturday night, but Mr. Dear had mounted something of a scare campaign.
“He followed me all the way into downtown Asheville,” Mr. Davis said. “He followed me three or four times.”
Mr. Davis said he was unsurprised to see Mr. Dear, whom he described as “a pretty poorly adjusted guy,” emerge as the suspect in the Colorado shooting.
“I think I would have thought he was a guy who would go on a rampage,” he said. “We were very wary.”
In Black Mountain, N.C., Mr. Dear had sometimes lived in a small yellow house reachable only after miles of driving on mountain roads. Two sticks, forming a cross, were attached to a padlocked shed that was filled with bedding, gas canisters and worn boxes of beer. He bought the house without running water.
Scott Rupp, who sold it to him, worried about whether Mr. Dear would fit in the community, which was populated by “environmental types,” he said.
“He was like a mountain culture person,” Mr. Rupp said, “and he was really excited to get a place where he could hunt.”
In 2002, in Walterboro, S.C., Mr. Dear was arrested on charges of breaking the state’s “Peeping Tom” law after a neighbor told the police that he had hidden in the bushes in an attempt to peer into her house. For months, the neighbor, Lynn Roberts, said, Mr. Dear was “making unwanted advancements” and “leering” at her on a regular basis, putting her “in fear of her safety,” according to an incident report.
The charge was later dismissed, but a restraining order was issued.
He also repeatedly had other run-ins with neighbors. One, Douglas Moore, said Mr. Dear had called him to threaten “bodily harm” because Mr. Dear believed Mr. Moore had pushed over his motorcycle, according to a police report in 2004. Two years earlier, after Mr. Moore called the police to report his dog’s being shot with a pellet gun, Mr. Dear told investigators, “Douglas was lucky that it was only a pellet that hit the dog and not a bigger round.”
Mr. Dear himself called the police several times to complain of people making a nuisance or breaking a water pipe from his well to his home. In 2007, he accused tenants who were renting his home of stealing a pickup truck, refrigerator and microwave.
He seemed to have a separate life online. An online personals ad seeking women in North Carolina interested in bondage and sadomasochistic sex showed a picture that appeared to be Mr. Dear and used an online pseudonym associated with him. The same user also appeared to have turned to online message boards to seek companions in the Asheville area with whom he could smoke marijuana.
On Cannabis.com, the writer said in December 2005: “AIDS, hurricanes, we are in the end times. Accept the LORD JESUS while you can.”
In his new home in the Rocky Mountains, where he had been registered to vote for only a year, neighbors said they did not know Mr. Dear well. Zigmond Post, who lives about a half-mile from Mr. Dear, said that he had met him only a few times, but that his dogs had once gotten loose on Mr. Dear’s property. When he went to fetch them, Mr. Dear handed him a few pamphlets strongly critical of Mr. Obama. Mr. Post said the pamphlets were strictly political and did not have any anti-abortion messages or racist overtones.
“He gave us these pamphlets and said, ‘Hey, if you ever want to talk about this stuff, look this over,’ ” Mr. Post said in a telephone interview. “I think we threw them into the campfire that night.”
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