OWOSSO, Mich. — President Barack Obama on Sunday condemned the killing of an anti-abortion activist in Michigan as activists and others gathered for vigil near the site where he was fatally shot.
Obama called last week’s shooting of James Pouillon “deplorable” in a two-sentence statement.
“Whichever side of a public debate you’re on, violence is never the right answer,” Obama said in the statement.
Police say Pouillon, 63, was killed Friday morning while protesting across the street from a high school in Owosso, about 70 miles northwest of Detroit. Pouillon was in his usual spot holding 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.
Authorities allege Harlan Drake, 33, of Owosso pulled up to Pouillon in a truck and opened fire. Prosecutors say Pouillon’s methods irritated Drake, particularly when used near the high school. Drake also is accused of killing a local business owner earlier that day.
Multicolored flowers, balloons and candles during Sunday’s vigil marked the spot where Pouillon was shot. More than 200 people attended the vigil, standing in a circle as many carried the same sort of graphic signs he used.
The retired autoworker was a well-known and polarizing personality in Owosso, a town of about 15,000 residents. His protests — often staged outside the school, library, at car dealerships and even football games for several years — rubbed some residents the wrong way and led to frequent court battles.
But some said he was a martyr.
“Not only did my dad die for these babies, he met them in heaven,” Pouillon’s daughter, 26-year-old Mary Jo Pouillon, told the crowd.
“When I was little, we rode past Mr. Pouillon and the guy in front of us threw a bottle at him,” said Jack Crawford, 13, as he stood solemnly holding a red-lettered sign that read “Killing is never the answer.” ”No matter what your beliefs are, you have to respect others.”
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 fatally shot in his Kansas church. Scott Roeder of Kansas City, Mo. has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and has said Tiller’s killing was justified to save “the lives of unborn children.”
Drake also is charged with killing Owosso gravel company owner Mike Fuoss in a separate shooting Friday seven miles from the high school. Investigators say Drake told police after his arrest that he planned to kill a third person.
Police have said little about what might have led Drake — a truck driver who mostly lived on the road in his cab and had family in the area — to kill, other than that he had a grudge against the men.
Drake was hospitalized Saturday after what the county prosecutor said was an apparent suicide attempt in the Shiawassee County Jail. The sheriff and prosecutor didn’t immediately return phone messages Sunday. He was arraigned Friday without an attorney on first-degree murder charges and ordered held without bond.
Fuoss’ family has said Drake’s mother worked at the gravel company more than a decade ago, and prosecutors said she did some work for Owosso real estate agent James Howe — the third man authorities say Drake intended to kill.