Clinic facilities

From the Archives: San Diego Abortion Clinic Bombing Plot Exposed 35 Years Ago

On November 5, 1987, Reverend Dorman Owens of the Bible Missionary Fellowship in Santee, known for his opposition to abortion, was indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy to bomb a San Diego family planning clinic.

Owens and six of his supporters pleaded guilty in 1988 to federal charges in connection with the attempted bombing of the clinic at Alvarado Medical Center. Owens served 21 months in prison in connection with the Alvarado incident.

Extract from The Tribune, Thursday, November 5, 1987:

Pastor, supporters detained in bomb plot

By William Polk and John McLaren, Tribune editors

Fundamentalist pastor Dorman Owens and six of his followers were arrested today by San Diego police and federal agents and charged with conspiring to bomb a College-area family planning clinic.

The arrests were made after a federal grand jury returned a six-count indictment charging Owens and six associates of the Bible Missionary Fellowship of Santee in connection with the attempted bombing of the July 27 before dawn against the clinic at Alvarado Medical Center, then located in Block 6400 of Alvarado Road.

At a news conference today, authorities said the seven people arrested spent two months planning the bombing and that “numerous” planning sessions were held at the church.

Owens, known for his anti-gay and abortion protests, was named in a separate indictment accusing him of tampering with a witness, Eric Svelmoe, the man accused of planting the bomb at the clinic. Svelmoe is due to stand trial on December 7.

The indictment says Owens visited Svelmoe at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and engaged in “deceptive conduct” intended to influence the inmate.

The visits took place on Monday and Tuesday, according to the indictment.

Svelmoe, a carpenter who lives in an El Cajon mobile home park, is a member of Owens Church.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Burns said at the press conference that Owens was present at two or three of the rallies at the church to plan the bombing.

They first discussed three potential targets, Burns said, including one of the clinics run by Planned Parenthood and Womancare Inc., which has a clinic in the 2600 block of Sixth Avenue, as well as the facility run by Alvarado Medical Center.

There was no explanation as to how or why the Alvarado Medical Center complex was ultimately chosen as the target.

“At this point, we have no reason to link this case to any other bombings,” said US Attorney Peter K. Nunez.

Named in the six-count indictment, in addition to Owens, were the Reverend Kenneth Neal Felder, 39, an associate pastor at the church; Jo Ann Kreipal, 37, of the 10600 block of Keith Street, Santee; Randall Ray Sullenger, 35, and his wife, Cheryl, 32, of the 1000 block of North Mollison Avenue, El Cajon; and Christopher Harmon, 24, and his wife, Robin Lynn, 22, of the 3900 block of Conrad Drive, Spring Valley.

All seven were being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center following their arrest today by police and members of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They were due to be arraigned this afternoon before Federal Magistrate Barry Ted Moskowitz.

In addition to the conspiracy charge, the main indictment charges the defendants with unlawful possession of a destructive device, manufacture of a destructive device, two counts of interstate transportation of explosives and attempted bombing and arson of property.

Svelmoe, who had been under surveillance by San Diego police, was arrested on July 27 after driving a van with its lights off and leaving a pipe bomb at the clinic’s front door.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officer James Stathes today described the device as a 12-inch section of pipe loaded with gunpowder and other materials, the pipe being attached to a 2 gallon gas can.

Each of the charges specified in today’s indictments carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The indictment gave this account of the events leading up to today’s arrests:

In May, Kriepal offered to introduce Svelmoe to others who had gathered to discuss “damaging and destroying abortion clinics.”

At a meeting in June, Randall Ray Sullenger and Christopher Harmon met with Svelmoe and discussed plans to “damage and destroy abortion clinics with explosive devices.”

One of the meetings Owens attended took place at Santee Church in July and also included the Sullengers, Harmons, Kreipal and Svelmoe.

Felder, the church’s associate pastor, met with Svelmoe and Owens at Owens’ home in the 800 block of Latisma Place in El Cajon on July 20 to discuss new plans to “damage and destroy” Alvarado Medical Center. (family planning clinic) by placing an explosive device there.

On July 9, Christopher Harmon gave Svelmoe documentation on the manufacture of explosive devices. On July 22, Cheryl Sullenger gave Svelmoe a gift box containing firearms to use in the explosive device and four days later she gave him a woman’s wig which he will use as a disguise when filing the bomb.

Svelmoe also bought gunpowder from Frank’s Gun Shop in Yuma, Arizona on July 25, then detonated bombs in the desert west of Yuma on July 25 and in a remote area to the east from Jamul on July 26.

Svelmoe, who is being held without bond, was charged with attempted bombing and setting fire to a public building and possession of explosives.