September 13, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Laura Berman

Murdered anti-abortion activist provoking until the end

Pouillon )

To some of the Right to Life activists who quickly hailed Jim Pouillon as a martyr to a cause on Friday, the 63-year-old man was a gentle teacher, who loved life.

In LifeNews.com, for example, Steven Ertelt saluted him as a man whose "pro-life sign outside of a local high school let students and teachers know some of their peers (were) missing."

In Owosso, he was a quirky fixture in a small town, carting his grotesque placards to various locations, parking himself in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic or a church or, as on Friday, at the high school.

He was immediately hailed as a fallen soldier nationally by the anti-abortion movement. And rightly so: He was an activist to a cause, exercising his rights to protest and to persuade, as dedicated by all accounts to changing hearts and minds as he had once been to his job at Buick City.

But the angry man who gunned him down Friday, and then killed gravel company owner Mike Fuoss, doesn't appear to have been on a political mission. Police told Detroit News reporters that Harlan James Drake, the self-confessed shooter, didn't have strong feelings about abortion one way or the other.

"Mr. Drake did not believe children should view the graphic material on the signs Mr. Pouillon carried," Owosso Police Lt. Michael Compeau told The News.

Pouillon waved signs -- gory and clinical depictions of mutilated fetuses -- chosen to make viewers blanch in horror. His goal was to irritate people, especially if these were frightened, desperate women who were determined to end pregnancies.

He parked himself in places where he might influence the young and impressionable, secure in the knowledge that he was doing God's work. And that work couldn't have been easy for him: After a lifetime of smoking and working on the line at Buick City, he breathed oxygen through a tube and wore a leg brace.

Energized by his passion for "the little babies," as he called them, undeterred by the disapproval or discomfort of others already living, he planted himself in front of Owosso High School on Friday morning. He wanted people to react to his passion, to shudder in response to his grotesque signs.

He was a man obsessed.

I don't know how much influence Pouillon had on those women he targeted over 20 years. But he got through to at least one man Friday morning, who was wielding a gun and carrying the weight of his own peculiar obsessions.

Laura Berman's column runs Tuesday and Thursday in Metro and Sunday on the web. Reach her at lberman@detnews.com">lberman@detnews.com.