In this March 19, 2006, file photo, the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. preaches at his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Phelps, the founder of the Kansas church known for anti-gay protests and pickets at military funerals, died Thursday. He was 84. (Charlie Riedel / AP)
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Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, has died, an elder with his church said.
“I can confirm that Fred Phelps Sr. passed away last night about 11:15 p.m.,” Steve Drain told Military Times on Thursday.
For years, families of fallen service members have lived in dread that members of the church would show up at their loved one’s funeral with signs that read “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” as part of the church’s campaign to vilify gays and lesbians.
In a statement Thursday announcing Phelps’ death, the church offered no apology to the military families they have hurt.
“The death of Fred Phelps’ body, a man who preached a plain faithful doctrine to an ever darkening world, is nothing but a vain, empty, hypocritical hope for you,” the church statement says.
Ever defiant, the church slammed journalists, whom they accuse of rejoicing at Phelps’ demise.
“It’s like every journalist in the world simultaneously set aside what little journalistic integrity they have, so that they could wait breathlessly for a rumor to publish: in-fighting, succession plans, and power struggles, oh my!” the statement says. “How shameful! You’re like a bunch of little girls on the playground waiting for some gossip!”
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the Westboro Baptist Church excommunicated Pehlps before he died. The church has responded by saying that its membership is a private issue and it denied that it has a leader or decision-making body.
News of Phelps’ death was welcomed by several people who commented on Army Times’ Facebook page, but some wondered if publicizing his death gave Phelps the media attention that his church craves. Others debated whether Phelps’ funeral should be picketed.
“May no one picket his funeral,” one person wrote. “May he pass, unremarked and unremembered.”
Al Snyder, the father of a fallen Marine whose son’s funeral was targeted by the Westboro Baptist Church in 2006, also believes it would be wrong for people to protest at Phelps’ funeral. His son, Cpl. Matt Snyder, ho was killed in Iraq on March 3, 2006.
“I believe he has the same rights as everybody else should have, that he should be buried in peace,” Snyder told Military Times on Tuesday. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”