The flagpole at Vitales - photo from Sarah Sell
HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WZZM) - On a day where flags in Michigan are supposed to fly at half staff, in honor of a fallen soldier, there is no flag at the Hudsonville veterans memorial.
It was one of at least two flags burned by William Howerton, 57, who was arrested Tuesday night.
The first call came in shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday. Someone saw a man burning the American flag at the veteran's memorial located at Hudsonville City Hall.
As police investigated, other calls came in. One from Vitale's restaurant. Jenn Hoezee and her friend were pulling out of the parking lot when they noticed a flag on fire.
"It was dripping and melting and I said, 'uh oh,' and we pulled over," says Hoezee, who who used water from a cooler in her trunk to put out the fire. "I just kind of starting dumping it on the embers and what not."
The two women called 911, but at the time, they didn't know about the other burnings.
Maintenance worker Ken Kossen discovered the flag at the Ottawa County Road Commission garage the next morning.
"I went to lower it, cause we're supposed to today," says Kossen. "I saw it tattered there in pieces, and some pieces on the ground."
Acting on a tip about a suspicious person in the same area Thursday night, the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department found and arrested Howerton. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of arson to a flag.
Howerton told a judge Tuesday that, at the time, he was angry and full of rage.
"I chose to take it out on a symbol of America," Howerton says. "That was a bad idea. I should have found other ways to protest or complain or whatever."
Investigators say the Wyoming man was angry at the federal government. He believes it was responsible for the September 11 attacks.
"I think it's scary," says Kossen. "He burns a flag and if that's not enough, what's he going to start doing later?"
"Kind of makes you sick to stomach," says Hoezee. "It's really upsetting."
The investigation into the burnings continues. Detectives say Howerton could be responsible for up to eight other incidents within the past year. So far, he has only been charged in two cases.
Howerton was released on bond, but will return for a pre-sentence investigation later this month. The judge said he wanted to learn more about Howerton before the sentencing.