John Salvi

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John C. Salvi III (March 2, 1972 – November 29, 1996) was an abortion opponent who carried out fatal shootings at two Planned Parenthood reproductive health clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, on December 30, 1994, killing two and wounding five. These were the subject of intense media coverage. He was convicted, and later died in 1996 of an apparent suicide.

Planned Parenthood shootings[edit]

On December 30, 1994, John Salvi walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts. He shot and killed receptionist Shannon Lowney. In the second attack security guard Richard Seron returned fire. Salvi then dropped a bag containing a second gun and 700 rounds of ammunition and fled. Police were able to identify him from a gun shop receipt in the abandoned bag.[1]

John Salvi was captured in Norfolk, Virginia, after another Planned Parenthood shooting. On March 19, 1996, he was found guilty of murdering receptionists Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney. After an unsuccessful defense strategy related to Salvi's mental state, he was convicted in both killings.

The shooting at the Hillcrest clinic, in Norfolk Virginia, was also a clinic picketed by Donald Spitz, a known supporter of anti-abortion terrorism. It was reported by the Boston Globe that Salvi had Spitz's name and unlisted phone number on his person at the time of his arrest.[2][3] Spitz was never charged in connection with Salvi's activities. Spitz held a rally in support of Salvi outside of Norfolk City Jail.[4] Because of Spitz's support of Salvi, Spitz was told he was not welcome in Massachusetts.[5]


During Salvi's trial, the defense argued that Salvi suffered from schizophrenia. Several expert witnesses, including noted forensic psychiatrist Phillip J. Resnick, M.D., testified that Salvi exhibited schizophrenic behavior and was not competent to stand trial.[6] John's mother Anne Marie Salvi testified that her son had told her that he, "was the thief on the cross with Jesus."[7] The defense argued that Salvi told his parents that "...the mafia and KKK are out to get me".[8] The prosecution utilized the testimony of Bridgewater State Hospital psychologist Joel Haycock, who spent eleven days with Salvi out of his sixty days under observation at Bridgewater State Hospital. Haycock claimed Salvi purposefully chose not to give a narrative of the events of December 30, 1994, and concluded that Salvi had no mental disease at the time of the crime and was competent to stand trial. Salvi was found competent to stand trial and was found guilty.

Salvi's conviction was ultimately overturned by the sentencing judge. Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara invoked the legal principle that a conviction may not stand if the accused dies before his appeals are exhausted.[9]

John Salvi had extensive beliefs in a number of conspiracy theories. While considered by his defense as evidence of severe mental illness, many elements of his conspiracy beliefs reflected those of others on the extreme end of anti-abortion activism : "Shortly after his arrest he released a handwritten note alleging conspiracies of Freemasons, conspiracies to manipulate paper currency, and conspiracies against Catholics. ... He has talked about the Vatican printing its own currency and a specific conspiracy of the Ku Klux Klan, the Freemasons, and the Mob."[10]


Salvi was found dead in his prison cell at MCI Cedar Junction in Walpole, Massachusetts with a garbage bag over his head tied around his neck on November 29, 1996. The official report states that Salvi's death was a suicide.[11]


  1. ^ "An Armed Fanatic Raises the Stakes". Time. January 9, 1995. 
  2. ^ Wrath of Angels, James Risen, p.368, ISBN 978-0465092734, 1999, Basic Books
  3. ^ *Christopher B. Daly (March 19, 1996). "Salvi Convicted of Murder in Shootings". The Washington Post. 
  4. ^ Extremist groups: information for students, Volume 1 - Thomson/Gale, 2006
  5. ^ "Don Spitz unwelcomed in Massachusetts". Retrieved 2016-06-15. 
  6. ^ PBS Frontline. (1995). Salvi's Hearing Transcripts. Retrieved February 7, 2007.
  7. ^ PBS Frontline. (1996). Murder on "Abortion Row" - Transcript. Retrieved February 7, 2007.
  8. ^ "Salvi's Hearing Transcripts | Murder On Abortion Row | FRONTLINE". Retrieved 2016-06-15. 
  9. ^ The New York Times. (1997). Conviction in Killings at Clinics Is Overturned. Retrieved February 7, 2007.
  10. ^ "The Website of Political Research Associates". Retrieved 2016-06-15. 
  11. ^ "Abortion clinic gunman dies John Salvi, who killed two at Mass. facilities, commits suicide in cell". Baltimore Sun. 30 November 1996. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 

External links[edit]

  • The John Salvi papers, 1994-1996 are located in the Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Boston, MA.