OWOSSO, Mich. — An anti-abortion activist gunned down in a drive-by shooting was praised Wednesday as an unwavering worker for his cause, even if some people didn't agree with his approach of holding a sign depicting a dead fetus.
More than 250 people, including family, friends and other activists, gathered at an Owosso football field to remember James Pouillon, who was shot last week while holding his sign at one of his usual spots across the street from the school.
"You may not have agreed with his tactics or his methods. But you could not — not — miss his commitment or his passion," pastor David Knox of Abba's House, a local church, told those gathered at Willman Field. "Jim shouted to the world what he was living for."
Pouillon was the first of two people shot and killed Friday by 33-year-old trucker Harlan Drake, prosecutors said. Drake found Pouillon's methods irritating, especially when he'd protest near the high school, police said.
Drake is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Pouillon, 63, and 61-year-old gravel company owner Mike Fuoss. Drake's family says he suffers from depression and was having trouble with his medicine.
Some of those who attended Wednesday's service here about 70 miles northwest of Detroit wore shirts emblazoned with anti-abortion messages.
The service was held at the stadium to accommodate the crowd, a decision some residents criticized. The school district said it allowed the field to be used out of compassion for Pouillon's family and was not an endorsement of his views.
Mourners honor victim
Matthew Trewhella, 49, and his wife Clara drove six hours from Milwaukee with nine of their 11 children. He last saw Pouillon in August at an abortion protest at the Woodward Dream Cruise, a popular event near Detroit that celebrates car culture.
"If every town had a Jim Pouillon in it, like Owosso did, abortion would be illegal," Trewhella said. "Most people play bingo at his age, but here he was using an oxygen tank and speaking for the unborn."
Officers from Owosso, the county sheriff's office and state police stood watch but there were no disturbances. Three trucks with anti-abortion messages and photos moved through the streets surrounding the stadium.
For more than 20 years, Pouillon protested outside schools, City Hall, the library and even the athletic field where he was remembered. The Vietnam veteran's activism began in 1988 when he traveled to Atlanta to protest abortion, his daughter, Mary Jo Pouillon, said before the service.
Asking for forgiveness
Mary Jo Pouillon said she harbors no ill will toward Drake.
"He needs Jesus just like I do," she said. Her father's body was cremated earlier this week.
Pastor Elmer Cox, of Church in the City in Lansing, began the service with a prayer, asking that the alleged gunman, Harlan Drake, "be forgiven for what he has done."
Some of those who attended the service later gathered outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Owosso, holding up the types of signs that made Pouillon well-known here. The clinic does not perform abortions but it refers people to clinics that do.
"Peaceful protest is a hallmark of democracy, and violence should always be rejected regardless of political or social motivation at any time or location, and especially near a school," Lori Lamerand, president of Planned Parenthood of East Central Michigan, said of Pouillon's death.
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