Columbia group plans to shield Spc. Sterling Wyatt's family from funeral protesters

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 | 8:07 p.m. CDT; updated 1:05 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 26, 2012

COLUMBIA – Members of the community are planning to create a human wall as a counter protest to Westboro Baptist Church's demonstration Saturday at the funeral of Spc. Sterling Wyatt, who died July 11 in Afghanistan.

Tori Smith, whose brother serves in the military, felt the need to counter the protest with an event of peace.

"I can only imagine what my mom would feel, having these people here and saying horrible, horrible things," Smith said. "Thinking about my mom's grief, that inspired me. It just sparked something in me."

Smith, along with others from mid-Missouri, quickly formed two Facebook groups (which can be found here and here) after receiving word of the planned protest.

The Topeka-based church frequently protests military funerals across the country.

The groups plan to counter the Westboro protests with a peaceful and largely silent event honoring Wyatt beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the First Baptist Church of Columbia, 1112 E. Broadway. As of Tuesday evening, more than 1,700 Facebook users have pledged to attend the event in support of the 21-year-old soldier's family and friends.

Members of the public will form a human wall to shield the church and memorial service from the Westboro protestors. Sarah Cox hopes this will counter the Westboro protest with a counter protest of love, with the community showing its support for Wyatt and the military.

"It's more just a gathering to show our love and support," Cox said. "It is a silent protest, we will not be picketing or making ruckus."

Members of the community are encouraged to come to the event dressed in red.

"We chose red to represent the fallen and bloodshed," Cox said.

Attendees are also asked not to park in the First Baptist Church's parking lot. The church has also asked that no signs or pickets be used during the event.

Organizers said the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcyclists that attends soldiers' funerals to shield family members against protestors, will be present.

Dustin Hile, a freelance designer who helped use social media to start one of the groups, wants to protect the family.

"We're going to try and form a human wall so the family doesn't have to deal with the Westboro community," Hile said. "With this soldier giving up his life for our freedoms, he should be able to be laid to rest in peace without being harassed by these people."

Supervising editor is Ann Elise Taylor.

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Phil Wilkinson July 18, 2012 | 5:08 a.m.

I find it deplorable that these Westboro Zealots would use their right of free assembly (that was fought for by the US Military), to disgrace a fallen soldiers funeral! I hope their mothers are proud of them!!
God Bless our fallen soldiers!!!!!

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders July 18, 2012 | 2:18 p.m.

Thing is, even this is exactly the type of publicity they crave.

(Report Comment)
David Sautner July 21, 2012 | 9:17 p.m.

So we were holding our signs and the people thought we were the Westboro Baptists (or at least some sort of strange and abnormal version of it) and decided to vent their hatred upon us Occupiers! (We even wore red to show our solidarity with veterans!)
We were just doing our Saturday thing! WTF!?

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 21, 2012 | 10:30 p.m.

"We were just doing our Saturday thing! WTF!?"

What does that mean?

Those revering our fallen soldier, were there for a specific reason. You with the "occupiers" were (read above) trying to gain attention. Has it been a year? More? No one yet knows what, with certainty, any occupiers want to change, except those recommended by the Obama Administration, which is filled with Wall St. executives. When will you and yours, take a break and a shower and truthfully embrace the battle for the economy you perceive as best for our nation, the one, Obama and his liberal Democrats are trying to foist upon us?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 22, 2012 | 4:15 a.m.

@Sautner & Christian:

Re signs:

There was a marvelous cartoon that appeared in a management magazine back in the 1970s. A group of apparent employees are picketing outside a factory: all have signs saying, "PAY US WHAT WE'RE WORTH!"

Facing them, at the front door of the factory, is what we presume is the manager. He has a sign saying, "I CAN'T, THERE'S A MINIMUM WAGE LAW." :)

(Report Comment)
Steve Simmons July 22, 2012 | 2:04 p.m.

Classy! Really classy! Why use this particular column to make political statements? For once an entire community came together, supported a fallen soldier and his family and showed their disgust for the Westboro Baptist filth and yet some still can't resist sinking into the political mire. Save it for another column!

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 22, 2012 | 6:14 p.m.

S. Simmons - In case you are mixed up about the insertion of politics into the funeral of our fallen soldier.

"It is a silent protest, we will not be picketing or making ruckus." Ms. Cox

"So we were holding our signs and the people thought we were the Westboro Baptists (or at least some sort of strange and abnormal version of it) and decided to vent their hatred upon us Occupiers!" Mr. Sautner

I don't know what message the signs were advertising, but sounds like the wrong one for Occupiers. Hope I'm wrong.

Mr. Sautner brought politics to the column. I replied. Get a grip.

(Report Comment)
David Sautner July 22, 2012 | 8:46 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Corey Parks July 22, 2012 | 10:27 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Steve Simmons July 23, 2012 | 7:13 a.m.

frankchristian-I refuse to debate you in this particular column. Readers can see for themselves who used the column to make their political points.

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 23, 2012 | 7:25 a.m.

" Readers can see for themselves who used the column to make their political points."

Sure enough!

(Report Comment)
David Sautner July 23, 2012 | 12:11 p.m.

I had no intention of using this article for political purposes. I was only stating that it is absurd that a sign with "Power to the Power" would somehow be implicated as a WBB sign that said "God Hates F---". We were wearing red, I was holding an American flag sign that was in red. We meant to be in solidarity with the veterans who are against WBB, but somehow we were identified as anti-war demonstrators who could sort of kinda be sort of like the WBB. I think the WBB is rotten and stupid. And we support the troops and especially veterans.

(Report Comment)
Steve Simmons July 23, 2012 | 1:31 p.m.

David-I can see that you were making a point about an incident on Saturday and not writing political commentary. Unfortunately though, admitting you are a protester on the left side of the spectrum is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It automatically triggers some to use the column as just another venue to make political comments and use anti-Obama rhetoric. I believe such comments should be in a different column.

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 23, 2012 | 3:43 p.m.

David S. - I seriously doubt that "solidarity" was on many of the minds of those whom took of their time to help preserve the respect due, a Christian Funeral, Burial and the family involved. In my opinion, most of those others, "support the troops and especially veterans", as well as the conflicts in which those veterans have volunteered to serve and the leaders that have deemed those conflicts necessary.

It is the signs that should have been left at home. Can you imagine that those complaining to you know the message of those signs well? Know the source that spouts "power to the people!" continually and detest those words, in that context, as well?

Your signs were the problem. Your remarks may be put where ever you choose. I didn't think the article was meant for a Sunday school class.

(Report Comment)

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