Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Michigan trucker with an apparent hit list fatally shot two men - a well-known pro-life activist and a gravel-pit owner - and likely planned to gun down a third victim Friday before he was arrested by police.

Harlan James Drake, 33, of Owosso, Mich., was arrested at his apartment about 8:30 a.m. and charged with two counts of first-degree murder after shooting two of the three men on his grudge list, said Shiawassee County District Attorney Randy Cobry.

“The information is that he had ill will toward these three individuals, not for the same reason, necessarily, but he had a grudge, if you will, against this trio of individuals,” Mr. Cobry said.

Still unclear is the victims’ connection, if any, to each other and to Mr. Drake. The first victim, 63-year-old Jim Pouillon, was a pro-life activist who spent hours on Owosso street corners and at local events with his chair, oxygen tank and anti-abortion signs, earning him the nickname “the sign guy.”

Mr. Pouillon was gunned down about 7:20 a.m. as he sat across the street from Owosso High School, holding a sign showing a picture of a 4-week-old babyand a caption saying “Life.”

Many students and parents witnessed the shooting and were able to identify the vehicle and license plate, leading police to Mr. Drake’s apartment. During his arrest, authorities said, Mr. Drake reportedly told police that he had been involved that morning in another shooting.

Authorities received a call at 8:17 a.m. from Fuoss Gravel, where owner Mike Fuoss, 61, was found dead in his office by an employee. Mr. Fuoss had been shot multiple times, according to the Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Department.

Police confirmed that Mr. Fuoss knew the suspect. A man identified only as Michael, living in the same apartment building as Mr. Drake, said Mr. Drake was a truck driver who may have hauled gravel for the Fuoss company, according to the Flint (Mich.) Daily Journal.

Mr. Drake was arrested before he could reach a possible third victim, a real estate agent identified as James Howe of Owosso, authorities said.

News of the slayings stunned the national and local pro-life community, where Mr. Pouillon was known as a dedicated foot soldier in the anti-abortion movement. He became a pro-life activist about 20 years ago after seeing photos of aborted babies, said Pastor Matt Trewhella of Missionaries to the Preborn.

The shooting would mark a tragic first for the pro-life movement if activism was the motive.

“We’ve been punched, spit at, everything, but this is the first time someone’s been shot,” Mr. Trewhella said.

Leading pro-life advocates and religious leaders convened a press conference outside the Justice Department in Washington to criticize the Obama administration for failing to release a statement condemning the killing of Mr. Pouillon.

They noted that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. released a strongly worded statement after the shooting death of abortion doctor George Tiller, though they acknowledged it was still unclear whether Mr. Pouillon was targeted because of his anti-abortion beliefs.

“It’s almost 3 o’clock, an American citizen has been gunned down on 9/11 for exercising his First Amendment speech, and the attorney general and the White House have said nothing,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. “I find that despicable.”

Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said after the press conference that the department was saddened by the tragic events and are monitoring the investigation.

Mr. Mahoney recalled Mr. Pouillon as an upbeat, devoted activist who never used his last name, instead referring to himself simply as “Jim from Michigan.”

“If Jim had an enemy, we didn’t know about it,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.”He was a great guy, a dear friend, and his loss will be felt throughout the movement.”

He said Mr. Pouillon would open his home to women in “crisis pregnancy” or pay for “their welfare and well-being throughout the pregnancy.”

Mr. Pouillon, Mr. Mahoney said, planned to travel to Washington this weekend to take part in “tea party” protests on the national Mall.

Some news outlets initially reported that Mr. Pouillon had been displaying a graphic picture of an aborted fetus, but Mr. Trewhella said it was actually a photo of an infant. The baby in the photo is Mr. Trewhella’s son, who is now a teenager.

Mr. Pouillon was divorced and had a daughter and a son, as well as several grandchildren. He had dropped off his granddaughter, Madison, Friday morning at the high school before setting up his one-man protest, Mr. Trewhella said.

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