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Port Orchard, 200; Kansas visitors, 6.
While only a handful of the anticipated Westboro Baptist Church members actually appeared to protest near a local soldiers funeral Friday, hundreds more showed up to show their support for the mans family and denounce the protesters.
For hours, dozens of people with signs and American flags blanketed all four corners of the Bethel and Lund intersection, while hundreds more drove by honking and displaying flags on their vehicles. In contrast, the members of Westboro were reportedly there less than a half hour.
Kitsap County Sheriffs Office Spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said that only a handful of Westboro church members showed up, and they left very quickly. He described the group as only 4 to 5 women, along with a small child about five years old.
According to witnesses, the group held up signs such as Pray for more dead kids and dragged an American Flag and stepped on it.
Wilson, who was with other deputies standing near the visiting church members to provide protection, said that the members did indeed drag a flag, inciting at least one counterprotester to approach them in anger, but he said deputies prevented him from reaching them.
Gig Harbor resident Joanne Hafley saw the Westboro protesters as they arrived near Puerta Vallarta, but she said so many counter-protesters surrounded them with their bodies, flags and signs that they were completely obstructed from view and they left.
The counter-protesters, who traveled from all over Kitsap County and some from Pierce County, said they were there for many reasons, but most said first and foremost they were there to support the family of Army Sgt. Johnny C. Walls, 41, whose funeral was held Friday at Christian Life Center.
We wanted to show our support nobody needs to be bashed, said Aimee Simmons of Port Orchard, who stood at the intersection Friday with her two children, Krystal and Mason, both 10. Simmons said attending was so important to her that she pulled both children out of school so they could come with her.
Nearby, North Kitsap High school student Kendra Cox, 17, came down from Poulsbo to display a sign Johnny Walls, rest in peace. With her was 18-year-old Silverdale resident Bryan Surber, who said he came down with his sign thanking Walls because he found the churchs protest really, really disrespectful.
Gene Morris said he came up with his wife from Key Center in part because he is good friends with Bonnie Gibbons, the mother of the late Devon Gibbons, a Port Orchard resident killed in Iraq.
Morris said he served in both the Navy and the Army, and has a grandson who served one tour in Afghanistan, and will be returning soon for a second tour.
Port Orchard residents Eric Rocconi and Milija Penovich, both 20-year-old South Kitsap High School graduates, said they both came to show their support to the family of Walls.
Penovich said he was not surprised by the turnout of supporters for both the military and the Walls family, nor that the group from Kansas left so quickly.
For Lisa Johansen, who stood on the corner in front of Safeway waving an American Flag, showing up that afternoon to support Walls family was more important than sleep, even though she had been up for nearly 20 hours.
I work the nightshift, so Ive been up since 5 p.m. yesterday, said Johansen, whose husband Jim serves on the USS Lincoln.
Mack Johnson of Silverdale said he came down to show his support for the Walls family, as well, but also for the gay community, since members of the Westboro Church are staunchly opposed to homosexuals.
One of my students said they give Christians a bad name, said Johnson, who teaches at a local school and had many of his students signatures on his sign, which read What part of Love Your Neighbor do you not understand?
If there was one thing this event did do, it united a whole bunch of people, said Wilson, explaining that people who came out to show support for the military, gay rights, the Walls family, were joined together.
It also sent the message, hopefully, to this church that theyre not welcome, and dont come back, he said.
Following the protest, the Walls family released this statement:
Our hope was that the few protesters who planned to dishonor Johnny and his memorial service would not receive any publicity. However, now our only response would be to say thank you to the overall support of our great military community. Johnny gave his life in defense of his team, the Afghan soldiers whom he mentored, and for peace and freedom of our nation and the nation of Afghanistan. Our familys standard is based on King Solomons wisdom of Proverbs, Let kindness be the rule for everything you say.