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Troubling clues put abortion clinics on alert

Wednesday, September 29, 1999

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Nobody's sure what prompted Roger Waagner's three-state escapade, holding up a gas station in Kentucky, fleeing into a forest in Pennsylvania, then finally turning up with four handguns and a stolen Winnebago in Illinois.

All they know is that Roger Waagner, also known as Clayton Lee Waagner, sometimes known as Roger Allen Clay, left behind enough troubling clues to prompt a federal investigation and put abortion clinics around the East Coast on alert for the 12 days after he fled on foot into the Allegheny National Forest and eluded police earlier this month.

Described alternately as brilliant and troubled, Waagner, who lived in Kennerdell, Venango County, had a lengthy rap sheet, a love of computers and a huge fear of Armageddon come Y2K.

Now he has something else: a mystery for police to solve.

What was he doing in his travels through the South and could he have been getting ready for some extreme act?

"He is a brilliant man," said Waagner's former pastor, who first met him a few years ago after Waagner was released on a federal prison sentence.

The most tantalizing piece of the puzzle was found Sept. l in the back of a stolen Chevrolet Tahoe after Waagner was pulled over along Route 62 near the Forest County town of Tionesta.

It was a routine stop for speeding, but Waagner bolted from the truck and fled into the forest. When police searched the Tahoe, they found a dummy hand grenade, a stock of large-caliber handgun ammunition, and handwritten notes with the names and telephone numbers of eight abortion clinics in Tennessee and Georgia.

Federal authorities quickly issued an alert to abortion clinics as far north as Buffalo and throughout the East, warning them to be on guard, fearful that Waagner might have been on some sort of mission.

"We were told there were materials in there [the truck] that could have been used to damage clinics," said Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for the National Abortion Federation in Washington.

Mueller said federal officials informed the federation's security department that the Tahoe contained explosives, gasoline and firearms.

ATF officials declined to fully describe what was confiscated from the vehicle.

By the time he was stopped near Tionesta, Waagner was nearing the end of a fugitive's run that began May 18 in Lexington, Ky.

Waagner, 43, accompanied by a 24-year-old neighbor from Pennsylvania, Jason Miller, pulled up to a Shell Mart convenience store in Lexington. According to police, Waagner entered the store while Miller waited in their truck, a GMC Yukon truck stolen weeks earlier from an automobile dealership in Franklin, Venango County.

Waagner held up the store and the pair drove off.

Police located the truck waiting at a drive-through line at a nearby McDonald's. According to police, Waagner pulled the truck over the curb, got on the highway, and fled, at points leaving the road, cutting through fields and knocking through a fence.

"They tried to throw objects out of the vehicle to stop the pursuit," said Lexington detective Paul Williams.

Miller and Waagner then leapt from the truck. Miller was quickly caught, but Waagner ran away while police dogs and a helicopter searched for him.

Police found an assault-style rifle, some items stolen in a burglary in Nashville, Tenn., walkie-talkies and a map.

A little more than three months later, state police in Pennsylvania found Waagner, this time driving a stolen Chevrolet Tahoe. He was northbound on Route 62, just south of Tionesta, when a state trooper pulled him over for speeding.

According to police, Waagner jumped out and fled into the woods.

Police searched the truck, where they found the dummy grenade, and quickly telephoned agents at the Pittsburgh office of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"It was a practice grenade," said Pittsburgh ATF agent Dan Boeh.

Police also found the handgun ammunition and the list with the names of the abortion clinics.

When federal investigators compared notes, they realized that the material from the Nashville theft found in Kentucky was taken from a place near one of the clinics on the list. ATF officials notified the Justice Department's Abortion Clinic Task Force, which issued the security alert to the clinics.

On Sept. 13, a state trooper near Danville, Ill., spotted a disabled Winnebago camper along an interstate highway, pulled over to assist the driver, and discovered the vehicle was stolen. He arrested the driver.

It was Waagner.

Inside the camper, police found four handguns.

Waagner is being held without bond in a jail in Illinois on federal charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

"Based on what we know, we consider him dangerous and we're glad he was picked up," said Joe Bouvier, an assistant prosecutor in Fayette County, Kentucky.

Federal prosecutors in Urbana, Ill., have charged Waagner with felony possession of three Glock handguns and one Beretta pistol. They are expected to seek a formal indictment sometime in October.

Waagner has a lengthy record dating to the mid-1970s, including charges of theft of a motorcycle in 1975 in Lynchburg, Va., attempted robbery in 1991 in Preble County, Ohio; and a 52-month prison sentence in Michigan on federal charges connected to the theft of an $83,000 coin collection as well as felony possession of firearms.

Puzzled about the duo's travels and the discovery of the abortion clinic telephone numbers, federal investigators questioned Miller, who told them he had only once heard Waagner make a comment about abortion -- against it -- but never overtly threaten some kind of action.

Waagner's clearest preoccupation was with the year 2000, when many theorists believe the inability of older computers to recognize a year with double zeroes at the end will trigger a massive failure in the power and public utilities grids and cause crises ranging from food shortages to bank collapses.

"Roger believed that Y2K was going to be some kind of massive meltdown of technology and the government was going to have to impose martial law," said Frank Parrish, the pastor at the River of God Church in Grove City, Mercer County, where Waagner and his family worshiped until they left earlier in the year.

Parrish said Waagner and Miller, whose family still attends River of God Church, left Pennsylvania in the spring. Parrish said Miller told him Waagner had gone out of state -- he mentioned Chicago -- to do computer consulting work.

Waagner, according to Parrish, had held at least one Y2K seminar at a church in the Bradford area. He left River of God because Parrish did not agree with his proposal that members prepare for a major disaster at the New Year. Previously, Parrish's congregation had prepared for the year 2000 after the fashion of people preparing for a large storm, stocking limited supplies of food and water.

"Roger's view was much larger and we could not come to terms over that and he chose to leave over that," Parrish said.

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