A Year Later, Fallout from Destroyed Clinic Lingers

Zachary Klundt devastated the only clinic in the valley that provided abortions. Now, both Klundt and the clinic’s owner, Susan Cahill, are contemplating uncertain futures

By Molly Priddy

On March 4, 2014, Zachary Klundt broke into All Families Healthcare in Kalispell and destroyed what he could get his hands on. Furniture was broken, office supplies scattered, diplomas and art torn up; personal items, including a photo of a child, were stabbed.

Klundt no longer denies that he did this, and he plans to admit as much in court during a change of plea hearing.

But, as is so often the case with violence, the actions of one have affected many. All Families Healthcare has not reopened since the vandalism, and its proprietor, Susan Cahill, has been out of work for a year. Patients were shifted to new health care providers, and the Flathead Valley lost its only clinic willing to perform abortions.

With Klundt’s change of plea imminent, the question has shifted from whether he is guilty of the break-in to what sort of punishment he will receive from the Flathead County District Court. He faces a potential prison sentence for a bevy of charges connected to the March 4 evening.

For Cahill, her future is in limbo: Unable as of yet to find a space in the valley willing to rent to her, she says she can’t continue her practice as a physician’s assistant, even though she has decided to stop performing abortions.

“I promised my family I wasn’t going to be a martyr; I’ve had enough. Which doesn’t make me feel particularly happy,” Cahill said. “They were worried about me.”

The house Susan Cahill and her husband Steve Martinez share is full of light and art and photographs. Framed pictures of her family and friends line almost every available surface, and her walls are decorated with colorful paintings and prints, each one catching the strong early-spring sunlight from the many windows throughout the house.

Before settling in to talk about the loss of her business, Cahill slips into grandma mode, showing a photo of her grandson and her son, both beautiful, both smiling.

Her son and his wife and child live in Germany, and Cahill and her husband are preparing for a long trip to visit them. They’ve been planning the vacation for years, Cahill said, but the last year has cast her plans in doubt, financially.

The destruction at All Families Healthcare last year was so total she had to shut down.

“I came to work on a Tuesday and my office was completely destroyed. Completely destroyed,” she said. “He broke things you wouldn’t even think he’d pay attention to. I mean, my Rolodex. He ripped the base off and tore it up.”

All Families Healthcare was vandalized March 4, 2014. Courtesy photo
All Families Healthcare was vandalized March 4, 2014. Courtesy photo

Klundt left Cahill with nothing, or less than nothing, of a practice she’d been building successfully for nearly a decade. After the vandalism, she contacted her insurance company for reimbursement, only to find out her liability coverage only applied to the building she had occupied just three weeks earlier, on Meridian Avenue.

“I never would have checked that. I knew when (my insurance) was up, I always paid it on time, and all that stuff. It never would have crossed my mind,” she said. “So I didn’t get anything from it.”

Other than $13,400 for electronics, there was no reimbursement. An estimate written up for the Flathead County District Court judge on this case shows more than $33,000 lost on items from the office, along with the nearly $20,000 she had invested renovating the new space.

Cahill also lists her personal salary loss, as well as the value of the business she was planning on selling in 2016, bringing the total loss to just under $500,000. After the vandalism, she received $62,000 in donations from the Montana Human Rights Network, and $2,625 from Love Lives Here, an affiliate of the network.

All Families Healthcare was the only abortion provider in the Flathead Valley, though Cahill noted that abortions were only a part of her business, and most of it was dedicated to family health care.

While advocating for legal, safe abortion has been a large part of her career, Cahill considers working as a physician’s assistant a calling; it’s a vocation, not a job.

“I miss my patients,” she said. “Aside from the abortion issue, my patients were my first priority. It matters hugely to me to be of service, and I enjoyed the kind of service I did.”

Her medical career began after earning a medical anthropology degree from the University of Massachusetts, which she followed up with a physician’s assistant degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Cahill began the PA program in 1974 and finished in 1976, and her training included abortion procedures due to the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Cahill visited the Flathead in 1976, and decided to complete her final elective for her PA program here, with Dr. James Armstrong.

Armstrong moved to the Flathead in the mid 1960s to work as a doctor, eventually settling in Kalispell and opening his practice in 1964. Once Roe v. Wade happened in 1973, Armstrong, now 85, said he wanted to provide safe, legal abortion procedures for women in Northwest Montana after seeing the infections and death that could trail the “back-alley” abortions performed by unqualified providers.

During his medical training at a metro hospital in New York prior to the Roe v. Wade decision, Armstrong said the staff would see 20 women a day after they had criminal abortions.

“A woman came in in the evening, she was about 25,” Armstrong said, remembering one case in particular. “She had a fever and we couldn’t tell where the infection was coming from. It finally came out that she’d had an abortion.”

At that time, the medical staff was required to report such procedures to law enforcement, and Armstrong remembers two male detectives interrogating the patient about who had performed the abortion and where.

“I stayed with her with the detectives,” he said. “She died in just a couple of hours.”

He said he saw similar infections at his practice in Kalispell, and, figuring women would continue seeking abortions, whether from a doctor or an unqualified person, he decided to provide the procedures.

Dr. James Armstrong pauses while discussing his medical career. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
Dr. James Armstrong pauses while discussing his medical career. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Cahill joined Armstrong’s practice after receiving her PA degree, and worked with him for the nearly 30 years. On Oct. 11, 1994, the clinic was firebombed by Richard T. Andrews, a Washington man who was eventually convicted of scorching seven clinics in western states.

“My main emotion was anger,” Armstrong said of the arson. “But we were back working within two weeks.”

The firebombing was one of the first instances of violence against her practice, Cahill said, though it had a different feel to it because the man eventually charged and convicted of the crime was not a local.

She’s become accustomed to the daily letters from religious organizations asking her to stop performing abortions, and even the picketers who would plant themselves in front of her office.

“But it does wear one down, and this last thing, particularly because it was a destruction and somebody that was in my community, that’s a whole different ballgame to me,” Cahill said. “It feels very different and very personal.”

So personal that Cahill is convinced there is a connection between Klundt and Hope Pregnancy Ministries, where his mother, Twyla Klundt, sat on the board until the vandalism.

Before she moved to the First Avenue East building in Kalispell, Cahill practiced out of a building on Meridian Road for about seven years. When the building went up for sale last year, Cahill said she declined to buy it because she was planning on retiring in 2016 and selling her business, and she didn’t want the extra overhead.

The building sold, purchased by Michelle and Kent Reimer, and Cahill was evicted. Michelle Reimer works as the executive director for Hope Pregnancy Ministries, and has said that she and her husband gave All Families Healthcare the necessary legal notice to vacate.

Cahill believes that when she didn’t retire after the eviction, and instead moved to a new location, that Zachary Klundt decided to put her out of business anyway, three weeks after she had moved.

In an interview with the Beacon, Reimer said neither she nor the organizations she works with had anything to do with the destruction of All Families Healthcare.

“It’s absolutely not the case,” Reimer said. “I don’t know even what I could say further about it except that it couldn’t be any further from the truth. I’m sorry Susan feels that way.”

Twyla Klundt resigned from the Hope Pregnancy board after her son was arrested.

“She was on the board right up until this happened when she realized it could be uncomfortable for us, which has proven to be absolutely true, not because of anything Twyla has done or did but because of people’s perceptions,” Reimer said. “She was sensitive to that and resigned.”

Reimer, who has served as the executive director for seven years, said Hope Pregnancy and Clear Choice Clinic are “pro-life and pro-women,” and are about compassion for women, regardless of how they choose to handle their pregnancies.

The services are all free, and patients are counseled about all options, including abortion “as equally as we know how,” Reimer said, meaning that the organization teaches its nurses and advocates how to discuss options without putting pressure on the patient to choose one or the other.

“It’s not my baby and it’s not my life. I don’t have to live with [anyone else’s] decision,” Reimer said. “No matter what you decide, we’ll be here for you.”

Clear Choice Clinic promotes abstinence and does not provide patients with birth control, but does refer out those who want birth control, she said. Reimer estimated that the clinic sees between 500 and 700 patients a year, for unintended pregnancies as well as sexually transmitted infections.

The attack at All Families Healthcare has led to threats at Hope Pregnancy and Clear Choice Clinic because of the perceived connection, Reimer said.

“It’s been uncomfortable. It’s so foreign to me to think that anybody could suspect any kind of wrongdoing that it’s been hard,” Reimer said. “It’s not been as hard as what [Susan Cahill] has been through.”

Regardless of the issue, even one as charged with debate as abortion, Reimer said personal differences should be discussed with civility.

“People are passionate, and I don’t think it’s ever right for it to come out sideways,” she said. “I think we can be passionate about what we believe in, but we always have to have respect. I think we need to have respect for our fellow humans. We don’t have to believe the same thing, but we have to exist together in some measure of harmony.”

Still, with All Families Healthcare out of business and Cahill deciding she won’t perform abortions anymore, the Flathead is abortion free. When asked if she thought the ends justified the means in this case, Reimer said it was a difficult question.

“I wish that what happened never had. I have no control over the outcome of that. I wish Susan hadn’t been affected in any way by any kind of action on any person’s part. But the outcome of that is not up to me,” Reimer said.

Zachary Klundt, now 25, is scheduled to change his not guilty pleas to guilty on April 2 – 25 days before he was supposed to go to trial for six felony charges, including three counts of theft, one of burglary, one of attempted burglary, and one of criminal mischief.

Zachary Klundt. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
Zachary Klundt. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

He was initially charged with only four felonies, three of them related to the All Families Healthcare break-in, and one stemming from an attempted burglary at Bob’s Bail Bonds a day after the clinic was vandalized.

Police caught Klundt after the second break-in was reported, while he was walking a block away from the scene. The officers found a loaded handgun and a spare, full magazine in the holster.

They also found cuts on his hands, cash and glass shards in his pocket, and matched his shoes to the footprints left at the scene at the clinic.

Klundt pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, as well as the two charges added last July for allegedly stealing a gun and a tablet from one person, and tools from another.

All told, Klundt faces a maximum of 80 years in prison and $300,000 in fines, along with the possibility of paying restitution on most of the charges. Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan said he couldn’t go into specifics about the potential plea deal for Klundt, but said he would not ask for “straight probation,” meaning the prosecution will seek some form of incarceration.

After his arrest last March, Klundt remained at the Flathead County Detention Center until Sept. 22, when he was released after two properties worth a total of $268,620 were posted to meet his $110,000 bond.

Klundt’s parents asked the court multiple times to release their son to them on his own recognizance, and Judge Ted O. Lympus denied each attempt, despite the Klundts’ assurances that their son would attend an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center.

Drug and alcohol use are factors in Klundt’s defense. His attorney, Bigfork-based lawyer Peter Leander, said Klundt was drunk and on a cocktail of “mis-prescribed” drugs during the commission of the crimes.

Leander would not grant the Beacon an interview with his client, due to the timing of court proceedings. However, he provided a statement from and about Klundt, apologizing for the strife he caused Cahill and the other victims in his case.

“First and foremost, Zach is tormented by the pain and trauma suffered by Susan Cahill, Bob Smith and others, including but not limited to, his family as a result of this case. Zach is working extremely hard to be able do the right thing, now and in the future, for those he has hurt,” the statement reads. “Although Zach has little recollection of the events that took place that night, that does not diminish his realization that his acts deeply hurt and scared many people. Despite what has been written in the press, he does not harbor ill feelings or hatred toward Susan Cahill.”

According to Leander, Klundt has suffered from Tourette syndrome, severe clinical anxiety, and severe clinical depression since early childhood. At the time of the break-in, Klundt couldn’t afford health insurance, and received inconsistent medical care as a result.

This led to the mis- and over-prescription of “powerful psychotropic medications,” which can cause psychotic and hallucinatory episodes, Leander said.

“Zach has spent 6 1/2 months in jail and during that time weaned himself off of all medications. Since obtaining his release, he has voluntarily and successfully completed the residential Wilderness Treatment Program, and is now extensively involved in a program of alcohol recovery,” the statement reads. “He is also attending college with the goal of earning a dual degree and working in his spare time.”

Leander also pointed out the hours of testimony in Klundt’s favor at one of the bond hearings, describing him as a “kind, gentle and giving young man.”

“In a strange way, it’s important to note that Susan Cahill’s office is only one of the offices involved in this case. Others offices were those of Zach’s family and friends,” the statement reads. “While Zach may not be a proponent of abortions, he has always been taught to – and does – respect both those who share his beliefs and those who do not share his beliefs. His actions that night do not speak to who he truly is. Zach, in his heart, respects Ms. Cahill’s right to pursue her medical profession, including performing abortion, in peace and without having to fear violence from anyone.”

A supporter congratulates Susan Cahill, owner of All Families Healthcare, after Zachary Klundt, 24, of Columbia Falls, appeared in Flathead County District Court last year. Klundt allegedly broke into All Families Healthcare on March 4. Beacon File Photo
A supporter congratulates Susan Cahill, owner of All Families Healthcare, after Zachary Klundt appeared in Flathead County District Court last year. Klundt allegedly broke into All Families Healthcare on March 4, 2014. Beacon File Photo

Though she is giving up performing abortions, Cahill said she would still like to get back to her practice, to engage with her patients again at a personal level and get to work healing again.

But even that is proving difficult; according to Cahill, two building owners, one of them a personal friend of hers, have declined to rent her a space, saying she’s too much of a liability.

“I’m totally in limbo at the moment,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to stop looking for a place, but I also realize that I’m going to be confronted with this problem, big time. If close friends think I’m a liability, that’s saying a lot.”

She doesn’t want to leave the Flathead. It’s the only home she’s known since she was 27 years old, and now, at 65, she wants to be able to retire here. But more than that, she wants to start a conversation here, one wherein the community can look at how it deals with opposing viewpoints, and how it reacts to violence.

“I feel sad and I feel frustrated and I just keep thinking, really? Really? I can’t do my profession safely in this community?” she said.

As for Klundt, Cahill said she hopes to receive some restitution for her financial losses, and she hopes the judge sentences him to prison.

“I want him to go to prison because if he doesn’t go to prison, other people whose belief systems are different are going to think they can do something like this and get away with it. And that can’t happen in our community,” Cahill said. “He has a right to his belief system. He doesn’t have a right to destroy my livelihood, my profession, and potentially my life, because he doesn’t agree with what I do. And if he doesn’t get some kind of punishment, then it’s not going to mean anything.”