Crime

Portrait of suspect in Colorado shooting shows role of religion, rage

NYT

The man she had married professed to be deeply religious. But after more than seven years with Robert L. Dear Jr., Barbara Micheau had come to see life with him as a kind of hell on earth.

By January 1993, she had had enough. In a sworn affidavit as part of her divorce case, Micheau described Dear as a serial philanderer and a problem gambler, a man who kicked her, beat her head against the floor and fathered two children with other women while they were together. He found excuses for his transgressions, she said, in his idiosyncratic views on Christian eschatology and the nature of salvation.

“He claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions,” Micheau said in the court document. “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.”

On Friday, according to officials, Dear entered a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, killing three people and wounding nine others with a semiautomatic rifle. The attack, which ended with his surrender to the police after a harrowing nationally televised standoff in the snow-dusted Western city, was a brutally violent and very public chapter in a life story whose details are not fully known.

But in court documents and interviews with people who knew Dear well, a picture emerges of an angry and occasionally violent man who seemed deeply disturbed and deeply contradictory: He was a man of religious conviction who sinned openly, a man who craved both extreme solitude and near-constant female company, a man who successfully wooed women but, some of them say, also abused them. He frequented marijuana websites, then argued with other posters, often through heated religious screeds.

A number of people who knew Dear said he was a staunch abortion opponent, though another ex-wife, Pamela Ross, said he did not obsess on the subject. After his arrest, Dear said “no more baby parts” to investigators, a law enforcement official said.

One person who spoke with him extensively about his religious views said Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing “God’s work.” In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Dear described as “heroes” members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.

Investigators have only just begun to interview Dear’s relatives and acquaintances and are still searching the Internet for his writings. Public information about his early years is limited.

Ross said Dear had a college degree. He spent a half-year enrolled at the University of Kentucky, and a year at the University of Louisville, according to officials at the two schools.

In December 1979, he married a woman in Louisville, Kentucky, listed in court records as Kimberly Ann Dear. They had a child, Matthew, in 1980. Three and a half years later, they separated. Dear moved to Charleston, South Carolina, which Ross said was his birthplace. He took a few fast-food management training jobs before landing a position at Santee Cooper, the South Carolina power company. Mollie Gore, a spokeswoman for the company, said he began work there in September 1984.

Dear also met the woman who would become his second wife, Barbara Ann Mescher, who now goes by her married name, Barbara Micheau. He told her he was divorced, but in the 1993 affidavit, which was also reported in The Post and Courier of Charleston, she said she later learned he was still married. The divorce from his first wife was completed in September 1985, more than a year after he met Micheau.

Micheau declined to comment for this article. Dear’s lawyer in Colorado did not respond to messages Tuesday.

Dear married Micheau three months later, after the divorce came through. But soon after, she said, he began to stray. In November 1986, he fathered another child, Andrew, with his first wife, Micheau said. Then in 1990, Dear had a child, Taylor, with the woman who would later become his third wife, Ross. The same year, he and Micheau had a baby together, Walker.

Micheau suspected him of other affairs, but there were other problems as well.

Money was tight. A 1991 income tax return, filed jointly by the couple, showed their total income as $15,526. In May of that year, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Dear was arrested and convicted in Charleston for the unlawful carrying of a “long blade knife” and the illegal possession of a loaded gun.

In 1992, the couple separated. Records obtained from the North Charleston Police Department show that in November of that year, Dear was arrested as a suspect in a rape case. But the state Law Enforcement Division, which offers criminal records checks to the public, has no record of Dear being convicted of such a crime, meaning it is likely that the case was dismissed.

Micheau described her husband as a man who “erupts into fury” in seconds. She said he had “emotional problems and needs counseling, which he vehemently opposed many times.”

The divorce was complete in June 1994.

By the summer of 1995, Dear had moved to Walterboro, about an hour west of Charleston, taking up residence in a double-wide trailer on a secluded one-lane road, Winding Creek Drive, that cut through the woods. Eventually, Dear married his third wife, who today goes by Pamela Ross. They lived in the trailer, raising Taylor, their son, and Ross’ child from a previous marriage. Walker spent time there as well.

In the interview, Ross said Dear would quickly apologize after doing something wrong. Still, the relationship fizzled, for reasons she did not discuss. According to court records, the couple’s divorce went through in November 2001.

Eventually, Dear moved to North Carolina, keeping two homes near Asheville in a stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One was a musty and weathered trailer in Swannanoa, from which he ran a business called S Prints Mountain Art Prints. The other was a yellow cabin along a steep gravel road.

At the cabin, in Black Mountain, he rarely spoke with his neighbors. When he did, it was usually because of a dispute over how he cared for animals or how fast he drove an all-terrain vehicle along the single-lane road where children play freely and dogs roam and yelp.

In the small community, his scowl stood out.

“I know everyone on the road better than I ever knew him,” said Kara McNerney, who has lived on the street for more than 16 years.

Around seven years ago, Dear began dating a woman named Stephanie Bragg. For reasons that remain unclear, they moved last year to Hartsel, Colo., a hamlet perched about 65 miles west of Colorado Springs.

He plunked a white trailer marked with a small cross onto 5 acres of empty scrub land he had bought for $6,000 and lived in near isolation with Bragg, rarely saying a word or waving hello to his new neighbors.

A close relative of Bragg’s, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about privacy for Bragg’s family, said that Dear “always kept to himself, was a tad strange” but that he seemed to treat Bragg well.

The relative said Dear and Bragg were “very religious, read the Bible often and are always talking about scripture.” He had not shown signs of being violent, the relative said.

The relative, who spoke with Bragg in recent days, also said that before the shooting, Dear reportedly “wasn’t sleeping at all,” and had “been talking about the Devil getting in his head and such.”

The relative said Bragg had been hospitalized since a week before Thanksgiving, with an infection and pancreatitis. Dear visited her every day until the day of the shooting.

“She says she can’t believe he was capable of such things, and I think that’s what’s upsetting her most,” the relative said about Bragg. “He believed he was doing God’s will, and I’m sure he probably wanted to die in the process of carrying out what I’m sure he thought was right.”

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