By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Two federal agencies have been brought in to investigate the circumstances surrounding the fire at a Casper abortion clinic last week.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are both now involved with the investigation into the May 25 fire at the Wellspring Health Access clinic, which local law enforcement officers believe was intentionally set.
Casper Police Department spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd told Cowboy State Daily on Saturday that the federal investigators are being asked to look at the incident because of the nature of the fire and where it occurred.
“The FBI was brought in to consult on any potential federal charges due it being a health care facility, but at this time we do not have a determination on that,” Ladd said. “The ATF was brought in to assist in the arson investigation. That is pretty normal practice for us when we have larger potential arson investigations.”
The fire caused what has been described as “extensive” damage at the Wellspring Health Access facility early the morning of May 25. While investigators told Cowboy State Daily last week they had found the point of origin for the fire, they have not yet reported where it began.
According to the FBI, the department investigates violent crimes committed against reproductive health care providers and facilities in accordance with the the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994.
The FACE Act made it a federal crime to injure, intimidate or interfere with those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health care services, including through assault, murder, burglary, physical blockade or making threatening phone calls and mailings.
The law also prohibits damaging or destroying any facility because reproductive health services are provided within.
Wellspring clinic owner Julie Burkhart told Cowboy State Daily last week that the fire would not prevent the clinic from opening.
“This is something I’ve been afraid of happening,” she said at the time. “I’ve worked in this field for a long time and I’ve seen vandalism, flooding, defacing property and buildings, but never arson.”
Burkhart said she had received threatening letters and emails prior to the fire, but none specifically threatening arson.
The ATF is involved in the investigation as it is the federal agency primarily responsible for administering and enforcing the criminal and regulatory provisions of federal laws pertaining to bombs, explosives and arson.
According to the Casper Police Department, police officers arrived at the clinic just before 4 a.m. Wednesday in response to a report of a business burglary.
When they arrived, they saw smoke rolling out of the clinic’s windows. The Casper Fire Department arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire.
The caller who reported the burglary said a person was seen running away from the building carrying a gas can and a black bag.
The new clinic between downtown Casper and the Wyoming Medical Center will be operated by Wellspring, which is incorporated in Washington, D.C., and headed up by founder Burkhart, who is based in Colorado.
Currently, Wyoming has only one abortion provider and 96% of Wyoming women live in a county without an abortion clinic.