EAST PRAIRIE - Family and friends readying themselves for Spc. Blake W. Hall's funeral can only hope it will not be hampered by media-hungry radicals.
On Aug. 21, Hall, a 20-year-old native of East Prairie, was killed near Baylough, Afghanistan, by a road side bomb referred to by the military as an "improvised explosive device."
Thursday, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., began distributing fliers through its Web site claiming they will be protesting at his funeral.
The flier, apparently titled "Thank God for IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices), claims that "God has become America's terrorist, killing Americans in strange lands."
The flier announces WBC's intention to picket the Hall's funeral when the body is returned. It claims the explosive device which killed Hall is "like the IED America bombed Westboro Baptist Church with in a terroristic effort to stop WBC's anti-gay gospel preaching."
"It appears that it may happen, unfortunately," said Kathie Simpkins, city administrator for East Prairie. "We haven't been contacted personally by them, they just have something on their Web site saying they are going to protest at the funeral. ... It's an unfortunate situation that the family will have to endure that possibility."
Hall's funeral date has not been scheduled yet. "We're still waiting for word on when he will be returned to the United States," Simpkins said.
"That's kind of the ironic part: Blake Hall actually died for their right to come and do what they want to do," she added. "The whole community is saddened by the possibility that they'll be here."
Simpkins said at other protests staged by the Kansas church, it has been under a dozen protesters that actually show up if any.
The WBC had announced its intention to picket at the funeral of Sgt. Robert G. Davis, 23, of Jackson who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Aug. 18.
The funeral took place Friday without any signs of protesters, according to Scott Moyers of the Southeast Missourian. "I didn't see them," Moyers said. "I just don't think they were there."
"They did this in St. Louis a couple weeks ago - when the cameras stopped rolling, they left. That's what they're using as their power base: the media," said Randy Bramlett of East Prairie. "If they've got a problem with the war, if they agree or disagree with it, they should take it through the proper political process and not burden a family who has lost a loved one ... not burden a community in a time of grief."
Bramlett said he empathizes with the Hall family: "I lost my son last September."
He is now calling for "churches and local business, everyone to get together on this. That way we're all on the same page. I'm not advocating any violence, I'm not advocating denying anyone their first amendment rights, but now is not the time or the place."
Bramlett refuses to even acknowledge the church by name. "I refer to them as the media mongers and Waco rejects," he said. "If you cut off the media (coverage) you cut off their legs. ... The media should not give these people any credibility or media coverage and that will take away their power base."
"It's plain and simple - they don't belong here," Bramlett added. "If they want to protest the war, go to the White House. Don't do it in the presence of a family or community who are grieving."
On the Net: Wikipedia on WBC founder Fred Phelps: http://en.wikipedia.org/