Call, vandalism spur increased security for soldier's funeral
WASHINGTON — Police in a central Indiana town will boost security at the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq after his family had eggs thrown at their home and received a phone call from someone who told them, “I’m glad your son is dead.”
Sgt. Rickey Jones, of the 101st Airborne Division, was one of four soldiers killed Feb. 22 in Hawijah when an improvised explosive device went off near their Humvee.
Over the next few days, his family found garbage strewn on their property, had eggs smashed on their house and received the phone call, according to the Kokomo Police Department.
Lt. Don Whitehead, spokesman for the department, said none of the incidents rise to the level of a serious crime, but because of the family’s situation and a planned protest at the funeral on Monday, police are taking preventative measures.
“These people don’t need to put up with any of this right now,” he said.
Investigators have not found any evidence linking the vandalism and the protesters, members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, but said they are concerned about the possible connection between the two.
The group has been demonstrating at military funerals across America, holding signs saying “Thank God for IEDs” and insisting that troops are being killed to punish the country for embracing a pro-homosexual agenda.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the Westboro group’s founder, called the vandalism and phone calls juvenile, and was animated at the suggestion that they could be connected to the protest.
“We’ve been doing this for 15 years, and now we’re going to start changing our policies?” she said. “We obey the laws of God and the laws of men.
“There’s not any concern about us, except that people hate God and hate his judgment.”
The group, whose members also staged a protest in West Virginia following the deaths of 12 men killed in a mine disaster in January, were not in Indiana this week, Phelps-Roper said. The group also planned protests at military funerals in Kansas and Missouri this weekend.
On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law a bill to make disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral or funeral procession a felony, in response to the protesters’ impending visit. Violators can face up to three years in prison and a $10,000.
Illinois has a similar law and at least 11 other states are considering such measures.
Whitehead said city officials expect only a handful of protesters at Monday’s funeral, but several hundred veterans and other supporters have also notified the department they’ll be in town. A large procession carrying Jones’ body to a local church, then to a nearby cemetery is scheduled to travel through town Monday morning.
Police held a news conference Friday to ask supporters not to engage or fight with the Westboro protesters, and instead provide a respectful and peaceful tribute to Jones.