Man charged in paintball attacks against homeless

Man says he was shaken by brother's murder

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Pittsburgh police say the brother of an 11-year-old North Side boy who was slain by a homeless man more than a decade ago told officers he shot several homeless people with a paintball gun because he hates them.

Joseph Drake, 21, faces a preliminary hearing Wednesday on felony aggravated assault and other charges after police said he and two other men took aim at homeless people who live underneath the railroad tracks near Sandusky and Lacock streets on the North Side.

Mr. Drake's older brother, Scott Drake, was strangled and sexually mutilated in September 2000 by a homeless man, Joseph Cornelius, who is serving a life sentence after confessing to the crime, which left the city shaken and put a spotlight on the problems of homelessness.

Police on Thursday arrested Mr. Drake after three homeless people who live in "cubby holes" underneath the tracks told officers they were fired upon from above. Officers saw fresh paint on one man's back and a cut on his hand. A homeless couple told officers they, too, were hit in the head, back and arms. They said it wasn't the first time they had been shot with paintballs in their makeshift dwelling.

They said they saw their assailants running toward the D.L. Clark Building on Martindale Street, near where officers found Mr. Drake.

Police said he was armed with a black paintball gun and had with him a facemask emblazoned with a skull. Also inside a backpack discovered on the tracks were a BB gun and a paintball pistol, police said.

He told officers he met with two other men, whom he could only identify as "Dan" and "Josh," who "convinced him to go down to the train tracks to shoot paintballs at bums," according to a police report. He also told officers that "his brother was killed by a homeless person 10 years ago and he hates how they beg for change and harass him," the report said.

Mr. Drake said he and his unidentified cohorts went to the tracks, yelled down at the "bums" and only started firing paintballs at them when they threw rocks.

Police continue to search for the other two gunmen, said Lt. Christopher Ragland of the Zone 1 station on the North Side.

"The murder of Scott Drake was a horrific tragedy," the lieutenant said. "However, that tragedy does not excuse Joseph Drake's behavior in this incident."

Court records show Mr. Drake was released on non-monetary bond from the Allegheny County Jail. He could not be reached Monday, and several relatives declined to comment.

Scott Drake's body was found in a field on East Ohio Street, a day after he and his bicycle disappeared. The Drake family testified at Mr. Cornelius' sentencing that anything short of the death penalty was too light.

"As long as you walk and breathe, justice can't be served," his mother, Karen Louder, told him at the time.

The younger Mr. Drake was also troubled by his brother's death. A May 2001 article in the Post-Gazette detailing his father's efforts to gain custody of him when he was 10 notes that he had not been to fifth-grade classes in months because of taunts from his schoolmates about his brother's murder.


Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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