AUSTIN (KXAN) — A woman who police say threw a Molotov cocktail at a group of women praying in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic on Monday evening, has been charged with aggravated assault. Austin police and members of the bomb squad responded to E. Ben White Boulevard after receiving a call shortly after 6 p.m.
According to the executive director of Central Texas Coalition for Life, the group was able to record part of the suspect’s license plate number before she drove away, which led police to 52-year-old Melanie Toney. Toney was pulled over less than three miles away from the clinic.
“This is definitely the first time that something of this nature has been thrown at us that’s actually threatened and put people in danger, so it’s obviously very alarming,” said Heather Gardner, executive director of Central Texas Coalition for Life. She said people have thrown objects at them before, but nothing like this.
Ruth Allwein is a volunteer of the pro-life campaign called 40 Days For Life, which hosts peaceful protests by praying in front of an abortion clinic, and was outside the Planned Parenthood when the incident took place.
“It had a lit wick, so my first instinct was to back away, then I wasn’t sure what to do,” said Allwein. “I ended up coming over and stamping on it, so it was a little bit nerve-racking. I thought about leaving it alone but then my thought was, ‘What if it explodes, what’s going to happen?’ So I decided it was worth coming back coming back over here and doing something about it.”
Allwein said she saw a woman driving slowly along the frontage road of Ben White Boulevard, but thought someone was going to ask for information.
“I realized she was throwing something out the window and it was on fire,” Allwein said. “So I backed away and turned around to see if I could tell what the car looked like, but I couldn’t.”
After inspecting the bottle, arson investigators determined it was a Molotov cocktail that did not ignite due to the fact that it landed in a soft, grassy area, according to court documents. It states the bottle was a “gum out fuel additive” that had a burned piece of paper towel rolled up into a wick, which had been burned from being lit.
Had it ignited, authorities believe the people nearby could have been seriously injured.
“I don’t know what it was, I thought it was a fire cracker, but I saw a person toss something out of their vehicle,” said Faviola Hidalgo who had just finished her prayer session. She had just left when she was driving behind the white BMW SUV, saw Toney and called 911. “My heart just sank, I got so scared, I said, ‘Oh my God, that is fire!'”
When officers interviewed Toney, she initially denied everything but later admitted to throwing the bottle and that it “might” have been smoldering when she threw it out of her window, according to an affidavit. The court document did not specify Toney’s motive and if she was specifically targeting the protestors or the abortion clinic.
“Whether your an abortion advocate or you’re a pro-life advocate, [violence] is not going to help either side, it hasn’t solved anything.”said Garnder. “We just want [Toney] to know that we’re praying for her.”
Gardner said in her experience, people who retaliate are angry from an abortion in their past or have some sort of tie to it. But it is still unclear about Toney’s background.
“We want her to know there’s help available for her and hope that she nor anyone else try any sort of reaction like this again towards anybody, because it’s not helping anyone,” said Gardner.
KXAN spoke with Planned Parenthood before police released any information about the woman accused of throwing the Molotov cocktail who agree that violence is not the answer.
“The health and safety of Planned Parenthood patients and employees is of our most concern. All individuals that are anywhere near or properties we want to remain safe, much like the core value of the city of Austin, we want this community to be safe,” said Ken Lambrecht, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. He said they condemn violence of any sort. “We’re just thankful that all of our staff, visitors and those near our facilities are safe and healthy today.”