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Wheelchair-bound veteran kills violent intruder

Originally ran here as:
Killing intruder 'not a good feeling' - man, 68"
Wednesday, June 13, 2001
By Edward L. Ronders

FLINT, MICHIGAN -- Clinton Burns knows what it feels like to be shot. He's been shot twice, first during the Korean War, then during an altercation in Flint.

On Tuesday morning, Burns, 68, discovered what it feels like to shoot and kill someone.

"I feel fine. I won't say I'm upset. But it's not a good feeling, either," said Burns, who has used a wheelchair since he was shot in 1963.

Burns, a decorated veteran, was awakened early Tuesday by a Flint youth, 17, who had broken into his home on Lillian Drive.

After a brief struggle, Burns shot and killed the intruder. Police declined to release the teen's name pending notification of next of kin.

"He already had some jewelry and my car keys in his hands," Burns said. "He died with my car keys in his hands."

Burns was planning to use his car Tuesday morning to see his podiatrist. His feet tend to swell, he said, and he wasn't feeling well Monday night.

"I just laid down on top the bed with my clothes on," he said.

He put his wheelchair on one side of the bed, and his television's remote control on the other.

About 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, he woke up with a start.

"I saw this guy's butt and his shirt. He was bent over, going through my things," Burns said. "I asked him, 'What ... you doing? Get ... outta here.' "

As he confronted the intruder, Burns grabbed his remote control, believing he could make the suspect believe it was a gun. The intruder came around the side of the bed.

"He asked me, 'Whatcha got, whatcha got?' I thought I could scare him off," said Burns, who weighs about 145 pounds.

As the suspect came around the bed, Burns reached to the other side and grabbed his .38-caliber revolver.

"I keep it under the pillow seat on my wheelchair," Burns said.

The suspect came around the other side of the bed, grabbed Burns' hand and began wrestling for the weapon, Burns said.

"I turned my wrist and pulled the trigger," he said. "The gun was about this far from him," he said, holding his hands about 6 inches apart.

The suspect fell and died draped over Burns' wheelchair.

"I couldn't get out of bed, he was on top of my wheelchair. I had to wait until the cops got here," Burns said.

Lt. Diane Garrison, commander of the state police post in Flint Township, said she believes people should be able to defend their home.

"A citizen has the right to protect themselves using up to and including deadly force," Garrison said.

Flint police said the case will be forwarded to the Genesee County prosecutor's office for review.

Burns has lived on tree-lined Lillian Drive for more than 25 years. His daughters and other neighbors drop by to check on him.

This is the first time someone has broken into his home. But Burns is no stranger to gunfire.

After graduating from high school, Burns enlisted in the Army.

While in Korea, he was shot and wounded, earning a Purple Heart.

He returned to Flint and in 1963, he was shot again. Instead of a military honor, this wound earned Burns a permanent disability.

"It was early Christmas Eve morning on the south side," Burns said. "Some guy got drunk and brought out a .25 caliber. He went to turn away and shot me in the ribs. I was in the hospital till the next July."

Burns left his General Motors job and went on disability.

"My knee won't lock, so I can't walk," he said.

Burns has kept mainly to himself in his quiet neighborhood.

One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said she also lives alone.

"Mr. Burns called me (Tuesday) morning to see if I was all right and to let me know what happened," she said. "He's always been a good neighbor."

Journal staff writer Bryn Mickle contributed to this report. Edward L. Ronders is the day police reporter. He can be reached at (810) 766-6314 or

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