Principal: 'Unbelievable' that group claims God's judgment in teens' deaths
By Matt Lakin (Contact)
Originally published 10:18 a.m., October 29, 2008
Updated 05:24 p.m., October 29, 2008
* Press release sent by Westboro Baptist Church
Leaders of a church that's drawn national controversy for its protests at U.S. military funerals say they plan to picket Friday's services for two Scott County High School cheerleaders and sisters killed in a weekend crash.
Six people died in the Oct. 24 crash near Huntsville, Tenn., including a grandmother, an unborn baby and four cheerleaders on their way home from a friend's birthday party after a home football game.
Friends and family say they just want to say their goodbyes in peace.
"It's unbelievable," said Bill Hall, the school's principal, who'd just returned from the first of the girls' funerals Wednesday. "We hope they don't come. The sheriff (Anthony Lay) is aware of it, and we'll be taking precautionary measures."
The Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., maintains such Web sites as godhatesamerica.com and became famous during the Iraq war for calling the deaths of U.S. troops a divine judgment on America for tolerating homosexuality. Members recently expanded their protests to include funerals of those killed in car wrecks, bridge collapses and various disasters.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the church and daughter of its founder, said all Americans - even the unborn - share in the nation's guilt.
"There was not one person involved in that trauma who was not disobedient to their God," she said. "They deserved that. Why shouldn't the unborn child be killed? You guys kill them every day."
An expert on extremist groups said the church has a history of threatening protests and failing to deliver.
"These are among the most despicable people on the planet," said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. "They have attacked everything and practically everybody on the planet. They often make these threats and then don't show up."
Cheerleaders Nikki Hughett, Ashley Mason and sisters Jamie and Aleasha Hill were headed home Oct. 24 just before midnight when their Chevrolet Tracker apparently spun out of control in the rain and fog on U.S. Highway 27 near Mountain View Road. The Tracker smashed into a Ford Taurus carrying four people, including Jeweline King, 49, of Grimsley, Tenn., and her pregnant daughter-in-law, Miranda King.
The impact killed Jeweline King, her unborn grandchild and all four of the cheerleaders. King's husband, Malcum, and daughter-in-law remain at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.
Funeral services are Thursday for Hughett and Friday for the Hill sisters and for King and her grandchild. Students who want to attend the girls' funerals will receive excused absences, school officials said.
Hall, the principal, said condolences from around the country have poured into the school since the crash. Funds have been set up for a scholarship in the girls' memories and to help the families with expenses.
"There's been tremendous support, but it's going to take some time to get over this," he said. "The community's never had to deal with anything like this."
Controversial church plans to picket in Scott Co. after deadly crash
SCOTT COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- As a community mourns the loss of the four young cheerleaders, and a grandmother and unborn baby in the second car, Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting soldiers' funerals, claims it will show up in Scott County to picket.
With one teenager buried Wednesday, and another lying in the funeral home, people here say they're disgusted to hear that a group would take advantage of this tragedy to make a political statement.
Flags fly at half-staff, and you can't drive far in Scott Co. without seeing ribbons, in memory of those who died.
As everyone here stands united in their time of suffering, news that a group may use this event to protest is very upsetting.
Resident Amanda Ward says, "I just don't think it's right. If something happened to one of them, they would want the same kind of respect shown."
Resident Ronnie Brock says, "Well, I'd say they don't need any extra grief at all with the tragedy that's happened. I'm sure the families have been through a lot and they'd just like a little bit of peace."
The group that plans to protest is from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Their news release says "God Hates Tennessee" and says the cheerleaders "died for Tennessee's sins."
The group that's known for strong anti-homosexual views told us by phone they now plan to protest at the high school, rather than at the funerals.
Church spokesperson Shirley Phelps says, "To help you connect the dots from your rebellion against God, your idols, your false gods, your filthy manner of life, teaching your children that God is a liar and rebellion against His standards."
Wherever they choose, the protesters will not be welcome.
Scott Appalachian Industries Executive Director Scott Appalachian Industries "You know, what goes around comes around, and people ought to just be careful."
The sign in front of Scott Appalachian Industries is just one of many indications of his support for the victims' families.
West says, "I don't know that I would want to find people in their lowest time of despair and try to make misery even worse."
There's another sign of support outside Pizza Plus. Owner David Daugherty put it there. He says the thought of protestors here is more than he can stand.
Daugherty says, "I can't believe something like this would happen, but you've got those people out there that would do stuff like this."
Sheriff Anthony Lay refused to go on camera, saying he doesn't want to do anything to give publicity to a group like this, but he says the Scott County Sheriff's Department will provide security and make sure there are no disruptions at any funerals.