Molotov cocktail explodes at Delaware Planned Parenthood office

Repairs have been made to the Newark Planned Parenthood office near the University of Delaware campus following a Molotov cocktail attack on January 3. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Repairs have been made to the Newark Planned Parenthood office near the University of Delaware campus following a Molotov cocktail attack on January 3. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

An explosive device, believed by the FBI to be a Molotov cocktail, crashed through the front window of Planned Parenthood’s Newark site around 2:15 a.m. Jan. 3.

“This is clearly an act of domestic terrorism,” said Planned Parenthood of Delaware president and CEO Ruth Lytle-Barnaby. “Its purpose is to frighten reproductive care providers and diminish the ability for women to have their own body autonomy by providing health care to women who want it for reproductive health.”

The device exploded and started a fire that burned for about a minute, damaging the front window and porch of the building. Lytle-Barnaby calls the incident scary. “It really could have caused some pretty serious damage, not only to our building, but there’s student housing surrounding our building,” she said. “Having that kind of a device set off could have hurt many, many people. So that’s the scary response.”

A collaborative investigation resulted in a quick arrest of the man accused in the attack. Samuel James Gulick, 18, of Middletown, Delaware, was arrested by the FBI the next day. Investigators used video captured by surveillance cameras at Planned Parenthood and at the nearby University of Delaware campus to identify Gulick as a suspect.

The Latin phrase “Deus Vult” can be scene spray-painted on the Planned Parenthood building in Newark. Police say a Molotov cocktail exploded at the building in the early morning hours of Jan. 3. (photo courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office)

“I am so pleased with the response, and that is what I think helps keep not only Planned Parenthood safe, but also our whole communities,” Lytle-Barnaby said.

In addition to allegedly throwing the device, police say Gulick spray-painted the Latin phrase “Deus vult” on the exterior of the building. The phrase translates to “God wills it” and is associated with the Crusades. Investigators say Gulick used the phrase online on an Instagram page that featured several postings supportive of “strong anti-abortion ideology.”

He was arraigned in federal court in Wilmington on Monday on charges including maliciously damaging a building used in interstate commerce through the use of fire or destructive device.

Moving forward, Planned Parenthood is being extra vigilant.

“I think the only thing that anyone can ever do, in addition to the things that we’re doing, is that if somebody sees something, they say something. Suspicious behavior should always be reported,” Lytle-Barnaby said. “We can’t let this stop us, but we are very clear in understanding that not everyone wishes us good will. And so we are ready to face that when we have to. This is one of those times.”

The number of attacks against abortion groups like Planned Parenthood is on the rise, according to a report from the National Abortion Federation. The latest report from 2018 shows a rise in vandalism, trespassing and internet harassment. Though Delaware’s Planned Parenthood offices have never had an arson attack before, there were 14 arson attacks at clinics nationwide, according to the federation.

“We’ve had some property damage, we’ve had protesters [who] have assaulted our client escorts before, things like that. But we have never had this,” Lytle-Barnaby said.

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