The Illinois man accused of crashing his car into a future abortion clinic in Danville while attempting to set it on fire told authorities he intended to destroy the building so it could not be used to provide abortions and would attempt to do so again if he had the chance, according to a criminal complaint.
Philip Buyno remains in FBI custody, according to federal authorities.
The prospective abortion clinic has been at the center of a recent high-profile debate over reproductive rights in this east central Illinois community, which passed a controversial ordinance earlier this month to ban the mailing and shipment of abortion pills. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and civil liberties experts have warned city leaders that the measure is illegal in Illinois, which has strong reproductive rights protections.
Buyno, 73, of Prophetstown, who faces attempted arson charges, told police he had loaded his car with old tires, firewood and a can of gasoline, and that he had intended on lighting the vehicle on fire once it was fully inside the building, the complaint alleged.
He also told law enforcement he was a member of a “‘rescue group’ whose purpose was to prevent abortion clinics from being established,” according to the complaint.
During interviews with federal investigators, Buyno said he had been active in the anti-abortion movement in the late 1980s and 1990s and had been arrested many times for activities in opposition to abortion; he had also been arrested in 2019 for trespassing at an abortion clinic in Peoria, the complaint said.
“If I could sneak in with a gas can and a match, I would go in there again,” Buyno told federal investigators, according to the complaint.
He added that if he were released from jail, he would “finish the job,” the complaint said.
Buyno learned earlier this month that the Danville property was going to be used as a reproductive health clinic and “he developed a plan to destroy the building before the clinic opened by burning the building down,” the complaint said.
Danville police responded to an alarm at the property at 600 N. Logan Ave. early Saturday to find Buyno stuck inside a maroon 2013 Volkswagen Passat that had crashed into the front of the building, federal authorities said.
Inside the car, Buyno had several containers filled with gasoline, flares and matches to ignite the accelerant, and old tires and firewood “to fuel the fire,” the complaint said.
Once he arrived at the building, Buyno “drove over the curb to get around chains that were blocking the entrance,” and rammed his Passat into the front of the building, where it got stuck, according to the complaint.
Video surveillance showed the car backing into the building several times; photographs depicted “significant damage to the building, especially the front entrance,” the complaint said.
“After the Passat got stuck, Buyno was trapped inside and could not get out,” the complaint said. “Buyno stated that he threw the red gas can out of the window so the gas would spill and he could light the gas on fire, but the can landed in an upright position. Buyno told us he intended to burn his own car, along with the building, but he never got the chance because he was stuck inside the Passat and then police arrived.”
If convicted, Buyno faces a minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000, according to federal authorities.
The alleged attack follows heated debate over abortion access in this largely rural community of about 30,000, stemming from news that an Indiana abortion provider bought the property at 600 N. Logan.
The building, a former eye clinic, was recently sold to McGhee Investment Group of Indianapolis, which lists the same owner and address as the Indianapolis abortion provider Clinic for Women, according to Indiana secretary of state records.
The property was being renovated to become a reproductive health clinic in late 2023, according to the complaint. The clinic — which is just a few miles from the Indiana border — was “expected to serve clients from multiple states, including Illinois and Indiana,” court documents said.
Hundreds of demonstrators expressed views on both sides of the abortion debate for more than three hours at a heated City Council meeting earlier this month, just before elected leaders narrowly passed the abortion pill ban. Some of these speakers favored an abortion clinic settling in their community, citing a lack of reproductive health services in the area; others decried abortion as immoral.
Danville police and Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. did not respond to requests for comment about the crash and attempted arson. The Indiana abortion provider also did not return calls for comment.
Reproductive health organizations have reported unprecedented levels of violence, threats and harassment since the United States Supreme Court’s June decision to overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed the right to an abortion nationwide.
In January, another man was accused of setting fire to a Planned Parenthood Health Center roughly a hundred miles away in Peoria, allegedly with the intention of delaying abortion care there.
Tyler Massengill, 32, of Chillicothe, in February pleaded guilty to setting the fire; he told authorities that a former girlfriend had an abortion several years ago in Peoria, which upset him.
Massengill told investigators that if the fire caused “a little delay” in a person receiving services at the Peoria health center, it might have been “all worth it,” according to a criminal complaint.
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The fire caused a million dollars of damage to the Peoria clinic, a building that hasn’t reopened yet, according to the Planned Parenthood of Illinois website. The blaze was set shortly after Illinois passed sweeping reproductive rights legislation that widened of the pool of clinicians that can perform abortions and included protections for abortion providers and out-of-state patients.
Anti-abortion organizations have also reported heightened vandalism recently.
The FBI in January offered $25,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for a series of recent attacks on reproductive services organizations across the country, which were set on fire, vandalized or defaced.
Most of those alleged attacks were on anti-abortion groups; photographs on the FBI website show several anti-abortion pregnancy centers that were victims of alleged arson, vandalism and graffiti messages targeting their missions.
“Today’s announcement reflects the FBI’s commitment to vigorously pursue investigations into crimes against pregnancy resource centers, faith-based organizations and reproductive health clinics across the country,” the FBI had said in a written statement. “We will continue to work closely with our national, state, and local law enforcement partners to hold responsible anyone who uses extremist views to justify their criminal actions.”
Chicago Tribune’s Jonathan Bullington contributed.