OWOSSO, Mich. — A man carrying grudges against several people in town set off on a shooting spree Friday morning, authorities said, killing an abortion protester outside a school because he didn’t like that the activist carried a sign with graphic images of a fetus in front of students.
Before he was done, the gunman drove to a gravel pit and shot and killed the owner, apparently for different reasons, police said. Authorities believe they stopped a third killing by catching up with him before he could pull the trigger.
“The defendant had ill will toward these three individuals — not for the same reason necessarily, but had a grudge,” said Shiawassee County Prosecutor Randy Colbry.
It started around 7:20 a.m. across the street at the high school, where James Pouillon stood with a sign that pictured a chubby-cheeked baby with the word “LIFE” on one side and an image of an aborted fetus with the word “ABORTION” on the other. Pouillon was a well-known activist in the town of 15,000, who often had one-man demonstrations outside area schools and city hall.
Harlan James Drake, 33, drove by the school Friday and gunned Pouillon down in front of horrified students and parents, Colbry said.
It was Pouillon’s presence outside the high school that seemed to drive Drake to kill, said assistant prosecutor Sara Edwards.
That “seemed to bother him …. the fact that he was outside the high school with his signs in front of children going to school,” Edwards said.
Prosecutors said they didn’t know if Drake knew Pouillon personally or if only by reputation as a local protester.
Students said they regularly saw Pouillon outside their high school and that he often greeted them, but didn’t shout slogans or try to start up a conversation with them.
“I can see someone spitting on him or punching him, but shooting him is pretty stupid,” said 16-year-old Curtis Wisterman.
Witnesses at the school gave police the vehicle’s license plate number and authorities traced it to Drake’s home in Owosso, officials said.
After Drake left the school, he drove seven miles to the Fuoss Gravel Co. where he gunned down Mike Fuoss in his office, authorities said. The two men knew each other, but officials didn’t say how.
Drake returned home where police arrested him in Pouillon’s shooting. Drake then told police he was involved in the shooting at the gravel pit, said Shiawassee County Sheriff George Braidwood.
Drake was charged Friday with first-degree murder in the deaths of Pouillon and 61-year-old Fuoss. It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney. He was arraigned and ordered held without bond. The third man Drake intended to kill lived in Owosso, authorities said.
Pouillon’s death was the latest high-profile shooting of a person involved in the abortion debate. On May 31, abortion provider George Tiller was shot to death in his Kansas church. Scott Roeder has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in his death.
Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said he wept when he received word that Pouillon, his friend and colleague, had been killed.
“He was just a kind, gentle man who loved life and endeavored to save other people’s lives,” Newman said.