SK residents plan show of support at soldier’s funeral

A Kansas-based church is planning to protest a funeral in Port Orchard on Friday for a Bremerton soldier who died in Afghanistan earlier this month, prompting outrage from local residents who plan to respond with a show of support for the family.

Shirley Phelps Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka confirmed that a small group from her church is planning to travel to South Kitsap and stand outside the Christian Life Center during the service for Army Sgt. Johnny C. Walls, 41, who was killed on Nov. 2 during combat operations in Uruzgan.

“We are doing everything we can to get the attention of this nation that you are running swiftly to your destruction,” said Roper, explaining that her church has sent representatives to approximately 34,000 funerals “in a great big circle across this country” in the past 17 years. “Each of these soldiers a microcosm of a nation that is full of rebellion.”

Roper said her church believes the current war the United States is waging in Iraq and Afghanistan is just one of the many “punishments” God has set upon Americans, along with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

“God has set a standard, and this war is a curse the nation is receiving,” Roper said, saying that because of the nation’s defiance, God has “dragged you into a war you cannot win that will dash your children to pieces.”

Roper said her church does not choose particular soldiers’ funerals, but visits any they learn about and can attend.

On Friday, Roper said about eight members of her church would be outside the Christian Life Center, standing in the public right of way.

“We stand there peacefully, holding signs and singing songs,” Roper said, explaining that her church members do not talk to people unless they come up and talk to them.

Word of the church’s planned picket was delivered to local residents via news alerts and email, and some vowed to show up Friday to show their support for Walls and his family.

“I am going to be there with my husband standing there quietly with our flags,” said Port Orchard resident Ayvon Card. “We will be unobtrusive, but we want the family to know that there are people who feel terribly bad that they lost their son.”

Card said she sent the information out to as many people as she could think of, and she hoped other people would come to show their support to the Walls family.

“I just can’t imagine letting these people come and harass the family and not doing anything. It is so horrifying — sometimes you just have to stand up,” she said.

An employee at the Christian Life Center Monday said no pastor was available for comment, but that the church was aware of the planned protest and has contacted the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office. She said such a protest had not happened at the church before, because this is the first funeral of a local soldier held there.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said his office would have deputies on-hand at the church Friday.

“Our job is to make sure the family has the right to have the service in private and in peace,” Wilson said, explaining that deputies will make sure that the protesters do not block the entrances to the church or go inside.

“Emotions will be running high on both sides, so we also want to make sure the counter protesters behave as well,” he said.

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