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."
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."
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