Dallas police say a suspicious object found outside an abortion clinic Friday morning was meant to incite fear while a peaceful group of protesters say it was meant to disrupt their prayer service.
Susan Platt, the local organizer for the international campaign 40 Days for Life, said a prayer volunteer found what appeared to be a makeshift doll wrapped in black plastic with string around its throat and wrists standing near their vigil box near the Southwestern Women's Surgical Center at Greenville Avenue and Royal Lane.
The group thought the device, described as disturbing, might have been something dangerous and called police.
Dallas police and fire arrived, evacuated the immediate area, closed Greenville Avenue to traffic, as well as the airspace above the clinic, and then used a robot to get a closer look at the object.
During a news conference early Friday afternoon, Dallas police said they used the robot to cut away the packing material and see what was inside. Once they determined there was no explosive or chemical material inside, they declared the item to be harmless.
Meanwhile, police were dispatched to other women's clinics in the area to check for similar items -- none were found.
Officials declined to elaborate on what the object looked like, but did say that it was definitely put there as a hoax to incite fear and that the investigation is now focusing on who placed the object near the vigil box.
The Dallas chapter of the pro-life campaign is holding vigil outside the Southwestern Women's Surgical Center for 40 days, from Sept. 27 through Nov. 5. Their mission statement describes their objective as a "campaign of prayer, fasting, and peaceful activism, with the purpose of repentance, to seek God’s favor to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life, thus bringing an end to abortion."
Platt said the group has been harassed before, as recent as last week, by a man who vandalized their prayer location and left behind a beheaded doll with the words "pro choice" written on it.
"A guy stopped and threw paint on our stuff and dumped everything out. We just feel sorry for him, that he's that angry. And we hope he finds healing from whatever it is that's making him so angry," Platt said.
She said the object found Friday was likely an attempt to disrupt their prayer and drive them away or make them afraid.
"It makes me very sad that someone would be that angry, that someone would want to chase us away from praying," Platt said. "We want people to know that we're not here because we're angry ... we want to help. We want to pray for them."
Platt, who said the group prays outside of abortion centers every fall, announced no plans to change their prayer schedule through Nov. 5.
Dallas police are continuing to investigate the object and said they have not determined whether it's related to last week's vandalism.
The center is an ambulatory surgical center that offers surgical and non-surgical abortions. The facility was threatened once in the past, in 2010, when a Plano man said his religious beliefs entitled him to use deadly force to stop an abortion at the clinic. The man was detained and the case eventually went to federal court. In 2014, two suspected car burglars being chased by police entered the clinic and tried to hide -- the men were arrested a short time later without incident.