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Small group of protesters fails to disrupt funeral services
By Jameel Naqvi | Daily Herald Staff

Police in riot gear walk down Fourth Avenue in St. Charles to meet protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church at Monday's funeral for Ryanne Mace of Carpentersville, a victim of last week's shootings at Northern Illinois University.

 

Rick West | Staff Photographer

Jennifer Keil of Normal and Northern Illinois University senior Scott Callan demonstrate against the presence of protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church outside Monday's funeral for Ryanne Mace of Carpentersville, a victim of last week's shootings at NIU.

 

Rick West | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/19/2008 12:09 AM

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The funeral of Ryanne Mace, a 19-year-old student killed in last week's shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University, went off without a hitch Monday -- despite the efforts of the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Topeka, Kan.-based church, which mainstream Baptist denominations do not recognize, earned national notoriety for protesting the funerals of slain U.S. soldiers.

Church members protest funerals across the country because its members believe the deaths are God's punishment for America's acceptance of homosexuals.

Three members of the church gathered in Baker Memorial Park Monday afternoon -- across the street from Mace's funeral at the Baker Memorial United Methodist Church.

Members of the Westboro church said they spent about $1,000 to fly to Chicago for the funerals and had protested the memorial service for Catalina Garcia, another NIU shooting victim, earlier Monday in Cicero.

"When this is what you do as your hobby, as your leisure time, this is what you spend your money on," said Paulette Phelps, daughter-in-law of Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church. "This is our vacation. This is our fun time."

In spite of their inflammatory signs, including one that read, "God sent the shooter," their protest took place almost without incident.

The only exception was when a mourner shouted at the protesters from behind a police barricade before being led away by police.

The presence of several dozen police officers from departments throughout the county seemed to effectively prevent any confrontations between the Westboro Baptist Church and mourners.

A row of St. Charles snowplows formed a physical and highly visible barrier between the park where the protesters were assembled and the east entrance of the church.

About 40 officers from the Kane County Mobile Task Force, in riot gear, stood guard around the park to protect the mourners from the protesters.

"They have the ability to express their freedom of speech," St. Charles Police Chief James Lamkin said. "We wanted to make sure there was nothing that would disrespect the funeral."

About 15 students from around the suburbs were on hand to express their disgust for the protesters' message.

Scott Callan of Morton, an NIU senior, stood at the back of Baker Memorial Park with a sign that read, "WBC abuses free speech."

"They're pretty much making a mockery of our school," Callan said. "I don't know how they can even call themselves a church."

Across the street, Richard Corns of Tinley Park stood with a few other students and armed with the lyrics of patriotic songs.

"We wanted to sing, but we don't want to give them more attention," Corns said. "It just shows disrespect for human beings in general."

The protesters said they might return to the Chicago area later this week to protest the funerals for the other victims of last week's shooting.