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Motive behind courthouse attack unclear

ST. PETERSBURG — Glen Powell walked into the downtown St. Petersburg courthouse with enough firepower to carry out a massacre: a .45-caliber SIG Sauer semiautomatic handgun, 79 rounds of ammunition, a gas mask and a large knife, the Pinellas Sheriff's Office revealed Thursday.

In 12 seconds, it was all over.

Powell, 30, fired twice at two bailiffs working at the security checkpoint near the front door on Wednesday. One shot missed and the other bounced off one bailiff's microphone and grazed his left shoulder. The two bailiffs fired at Powell 11 times, killing him.

The Sheriff's Office retrieved video footage from security cameras and continues to investigate. Powell's home computer was seized. Officials did not say how many times Powell was shot.

"They are going to do everything they can to determine what motive was in his mind," said Sgt. Jim Bordner, Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Interviews with friends and family members portrayed Powell as a troubled loner who was going through a tough divorce but couldn't reach out for help. As a result, he ended up exploring antigovernment Web sites.

"He was at a real vulnerable point in his life," said close friend Skip Stillwell, 53, a tool room attendant at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where Powell was once stationed.

Stillwell said Powell didn't fit in with the other street-smart, boisterous employees at Edwards, where he did body work on jets. He was bookish and didn't drink or smoke.

"I saw him a lot by himself," Stillwell said.

As a young man, Powell was an Eagle Scout and wrestler in Brandon High School's legendary program. He was active in the Mormon church, learning Spanish during a two-year mission to Colombia.

But Powell's marriage and life in the Air Force were more difficult. His wife Vivian, 33, was disabled and required a wheelchair. They married in 2002 and had no children. They were on the verge of divorce by the time Stillwell met Powell about two years ago.

In fact, Stillwell said, Powell had planned to serve for 30 years, but left the Air Force after about six years because he didn't want his wife to get a big chunk of his pension.

Vivian Powell could not be reached for comments. But Robert Grau, 67, a friend of the family, said Vivian used his St. Petersburg home as a mailing address because Powell was abusive, and they didn't want him to find her.

Vivian Powell and her family are "deathly afraid of the man, that's no secret," Grau said

But Stillwell said Powell feared his wife's family: "He was afraid that somebody in her family was going to do something."

Powell has no criminal record in Florida or in the California county that is home to Edwards Air Force Base. He is not listed as the holder of a concealed weapons permit in the most recent public records available.

Powell was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 2006 and moved in with his family in Brandon last September, according to his mother, Virginia Powell. Stillwell remembers Powell telling him that he wanted to get his divorce finalized so he could start his life over again.

On the surface, Powell seemed normal and remained active in a local Mormon church in Brandon. Bruce Adams, who employed Powell part time at his landscaping business, said he worked hard and considered himself a patriot.

"He thought a little bit outside the box, but nothing more than any other person," Adams said.

Vivian Powell began divorce proceedings in March, citing "irreconcilable differences." She wrote in court documents that she is permanently disabled and listed a single shared asset: a 1998 Dodge truck. She added that Powell "dropped my wheelchair lift off and drove away with the truck."

Asked if her husband had any weapons, she wrote, "knives, hunting bow, possibly guns."

Virginia Powell, 66, said her son was doing his best to deal with the divorce. But the battle left him vulnerable and more susceptible to extreme views he encountered on the Internet.

"He was depressed, and he just felt very confused," she said.

She said he advocated strict adherence to the Constitution and believed police and the Air Force were unconstitutional.

"He talked to me about it. He tried to convince everybody of it," she said.

Virginia Powell said her son may have first started exploring Web sites several years ago, after she bought him a computer. Stillwell remembers Powell started saying things like "taxes were unconstitutional" around the end of his stint in the Air Force.

Virginia Powell cited one group called Freedom Force International that her son visited on the Internet.

But G. Edward Griffin, founder and president of the group, said Freedom Force does not condone violence and does not believe that the Army and police are unconstitutional. He also said the group had no contact with Powell, who was not a member.

Stillwell said he doesn't know what finally caused Powell to resort to violence.

"Sometimes if you don't fit in, (officials) can miss the signals for depression," he said. "Something between here and when he did it must have made it snap."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy

contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at or (727) 893-8472.

Motive behind courthouse attack unclear 05/08/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 11, 2008 8:56pm]
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