The Marshfield man who told authorities he came to town with a gun, bullets and plans to kill an abortion doctor was charged Friday with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in Dane County Circuit Court.
Ralph W. Lang, 63, said that after shooting an abortion provider at a Planned Parenthood in Madison, he was next going to go to an abortion clinic in Milwaukee, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday.
A portrait of Lang emerged as an unemployed loner who grew up on a farm with 10 siblings. He has strong anti-abortion convictions and had previously protested — and in 2007 been arrested — at the same Planned Parenthood on the Far East Side that he appeared ready to attack on Thursday.
“He definitely stood out,” said Kat Wagner, a reporter for the Catholic Herald, Madison’s diocesan newspaper, who met and interviewed Lang when he would hold graphic anti-abortion signs, often standing alone outside the clinic in 2008 in events organized by Madison-based Vigil for Life. “He seemed very gentle but very convinced that abortion was wrong.”
Officials with Vigil for Life couldn’t be reached for comment. Another anti-abortion rights group, Wisconsin Right to Life, issued a statement condemning what it described as a “heinous act which is in total opposition” to the group’s mission.
The leader of a national abortion rights group said that Lang’s progression is not unusual among the small number of anti-abortion protesters who turn violent.
“This fits a pattern,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, describing “the escalation of activities from perhaps just protesting to making threats to carrying out threats.”
For the most part, the complaint filed Friday in county court mirrors a criminal complaint filed Thursday by federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court in Madison that charged Lang with a misdemeanor, attempting to injure, intimidate and interfere with people providing reproductive health services.
Both complaints describe how Lang accidentally fired a bullet through the door of his room at Motel 6 on Wednesday night, then told Madison police of his plan to kill a doctor at the Planned Parenthood clinic on Thursday morning.
But the attempted murder complaint filed Friday provides a different account of how Lang fired the gunshot in his motel room. In the federal complaint, Lang said he was loading a magazine into his handgun and it went off, but he did not know how it went off.
In the Dane County complaint, Lang told police that he was practicing lowering his gun and was facing the motel room door, then pulled the trigger, causing the gun to fire.
“I didn’t think it was loaded,” he said, according to the complaint.
Lang appeared in Dane County Circuit Court on Friday afternoon, where Court Commissioner Todd Meurer ordered him jailed on $200,000 bail. The lawyer appearing with Lang, Gina Bosben, said he is unemployed but does not qualify for a state public defender because he owns a small house where he lives and a duplex that he rents, both in Marshfield.
Meurer also ordered that if Lang gets out of jail he not be within 1,000 feet of Planned Parenthood or any other reproductive health clinic and not to have any weapons. A preliminary hearing was set for June 7.
Earlier Friday morning a federal judge ordered him held in custody as federal prosecutors considered new charges against him.
U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said prosecutors, working with the Department of Justice’s civil rights division in Washington, are considering seeking a felony charge against Lang alleging that he interfered with a person’s use of a program that receives federal funds.
Vaudreuil said prosecutors could take the case to a grand jury in three weeks when it next meets.
Vaudreuil asked a judge to keep Lang in custody despite being charged with a misdemeanor. Vaudreuil later said he made the request because Lang poses a “risk of danger to the community.”
Lang told a Madison police officer at the Motel 6, 1754 Thierer Road, that he had a gun “to lay out abortionists because they are killing babies,” according to the criminal complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.
Lang said he planned on shooting the clinic’s doctor “right in the head,” according to the complaint. Asked if he planned to shoot just the doctor or nurses, too, Lang replied he wished he “could line them up all in a row, get a machine gun, and mow them all down,” the complaint said.
Vaudreuil said Friday that police recovered the gun and executed two search warrants, one on the motel room Lang stayed in and the other on his vehicle. Authorities may also search his home, Vaudreuil said.
Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said that despite the threats the clinic stayed open Thursday and operated on its regular schedule Friday.
“With the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Madison Police Department, we have taken the security precautions necessary to continue with our work,” she said.