Family and friends of Army Staff Sgt. Gary Harper in his Illinois hometown wondered why anyone would picket the memorial service for the fallen soldier, a Green Beret medic and father of three.
However, it happened Dec. 10.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, about eight members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., gathered at the service in tiny Virden, Ill., which is about 230 miles southwest of Chicago.
Many attendees were disgusted at the thought of the church group demonstrating at the service. 'It's a tremendous disruption from what should be a nice ceremony," Virden Police Chief Steve Huggins told the newspaper, as he and a line of officers stood between the church members and more than 150 counter-protesters.
In recent months, the church has picketed nearly 70 military funerals, proclaiming the deaths of soldiers as America's punishment from God for protecting gays and lesbians.
The church is headed by the Rev. Fred Phelps, Sr., who has said that three-fourths of its 100 or so members are his relatives. Phelps himself was not picketing in Virden.
There was speculation that Phelps and his church would protest the Naperville funeral of 19-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Adam Wade Kaiser, who died in Fallujah, Iraq, Dec. 1. Services were scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 12 at Beidelman-Kunsch Funeral Home. However, according to e-mails from various sources who expected the protesters, Phelps and his congregation did not appear.