Suspect in Arson at Planned Parenthood Clinic Cited Ex-Girlfriend’s Abortion, U.S. Says

The man, Tyler W. Massengill, 32, told investigators that he hoped the fire on Jan. 15 would delay others in having an abortion, according to federal authorities.

Windows were boarded up at the building that housed a Planned Parenthood Health Center in Peoria, Illinois, after a firebombing on January 15.
Front windows were boarded up at the Planned Parenthood Health Center in Peoria, Ill., last week.Credit...Matt Dayhoff/Journal Star, via Associated Press

A man accused of firebombing a Planned Parenthood clinic in Peoria, Ill., earlier this month told investigators that he had done so after recalling an abortion a former girlfriend once had against his wishes, adding that he hoped the fire would delay others in having abortions, according to federal authorities.

The man, Tyler W. Massengill, 32, was arrested and charged this week with malicious use of fire and an explosive to damage, and attempt to damage, the Planned Parenthood building, the Justice Department said in a news release on Wednesday.

Mr. Massengill initially denied the charges, but later admitted that he had set fire to the building, explaining that he had been upset after being reminded of a former girlfriend who, three years earlier, had informed Mr. Massengill by phone that she was having an abortion, the authorities said. Mr. Massengill was away working in Alaska at the time, while his former girlfriend was in Peoria, he told investigators.

If the attack caused “a little delay” in a person receiving services at the clinic, he told investigators, his actions may have been “all worth it.”

It is unclear from the charging documents what might have reminded Mr. Massengill of the former girlfriend’s abortion. The attack on the Peoria Health Center, on Jan. 15, came just days after sweeping abortion protections were signed into law in Illinois.

The fire caused “significant damage” to the clinic, which has closed its doors to patients, potentially for several months or more, according to court documents. Earlier this month, fire officials estimated the damage at more than $150,000, while Planned Parenthood said it would most likely exceed $1 million.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, surveillance footage from that evening shows a man arriving at the clinic at around 11:20 p.m., wearing a coat with a hood pulled up, and holding a “laundry-detergent-sized bottle.” The man lit a rag stuffed into the end of the bottle on fire, smashed one of the clinic’s windows open, and put the bottle inside, documents say.

Investigators said that the truck that appeared in surveillance footage — a 1996 white Dodge Dakota with red doors — matched the description given by a bystander. On Monday, investigators said, they received a tip from a woman claiming that Mr. Massengill had left his pickup truck at her home in Sparland, Ill., about 26 miles north of the clinic, and requested that she paint the red doors white for $300.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation seized Mr. Massengill’s truck that day. On Tuesday, Mr. Massengill turned himself in to the Peoria Police Department.

According to court records, Mr. Massengill was sentenced in 2008 to three years in a prison in Tazewell County, Ill., for burglary. In March, he also pleaded guilty in a court in Peoria County, Ill., to a charge of aggravated assault.

It was not immediately clear on Tuesday if Mr. Massengill had a lawyer, and efforts to reach his family members were unsuccessful.

If convicted on the charge of malicious use of fire, Mr. Massengill would face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, and could receive up to 40 years, according to the Justice Department. The charges also carry up to three years of supervised release and a possible fine of up to $250,000.

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.