Anti-gay church pickets service for Reno victim of serial rapist
February 24, 2008
RENO – small group from a Kansas-based church that protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers faced off Saturday night against more than 150 counter-demonstrators outside a memorial service for a Reno woman killed by a serial rapist.
The tense standoff during a fierce snowstorm ended peacefully when three female anti-gay protesters associated with the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., were escorted away from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in a police van, Reno police Sgt. police Sgt. Chris Lange said.
“There were a couple of eggs thrown at them and that’s about it,” Lange said.
Counter-demonstrators surrounded the three church members after the latter waved placards reading “Pray for More Dead Kids,” ”Don’t Worship the Dead” and “God Sent the Killer.”
Counter-demonstrators responded by chanting, “Go Back to Kansas” and waving placards reading “Let Friends Mourn in Peace.”
Inside, more than 3,000 people attended the service for Brianna Denison, 19, who police said was abducted Jan. 20 and killed by a serial rapist linked to two earlier attacks on the edge of the University of Nevada, Reno. Her body was found in a Reno field on Feb. 15.
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Members of the church picket military funerals out of a belief that the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.
Last month, the church announced it would protest the service for Denison because they think God hates Reno, as well as gay people and America’s tolerance of them.
Church officials said they targeted Reno because local law enforcement officers failed to protect three church members who picketed a Jan. 26 memorial service in Reno for staff Sgt. Sean gaul, who was killed in Iraq on Jan. 9.
On Saturday might, more than a dozen uniformed officers strived to keep an estimated 150 to 200 counter-demonstrators separated from the three anti-gay protesters, Lange said.
Police barred a reporter from approaching the church members, citing safety concerns.
A call to the church resulted in a recording that said no one was available.
Counter-demonstrators said they strongly disapprove of the church’s message and tactic of picketing outside memorial services.
“You call yourself a church. You’re a hate group,” yelled Sarah Dutton of Reno. “Move out of America if you hate it so much.”
Greg Bailor Jr. of Reno agreed: “For them to come out and target tragedies like this, I don’t think it’s right. There’s enough emotions as it is.”
Counter-demonstrators included local church members as well as members of the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who support fallen soldiers.
Inside, Denison was eulogized as a loving, caring woman with many friends and a winning personality.
Denison was a student at Santa Barbara City College in California. She was visiting her hometown over winter break and was last seen sleeping on a couch at a friend’s rental house just off the Reno campus.
“She constantly amazed me how she could embrace all kinds of people,” said her close friend, Danielle DeTomaso. “She knew people from all walks of life. She was the glue that held all of us together.”
Denison’s cousin, Spencer Terry, said her spirit would continue to live in the hearts of friends and family.
“Could anybody have asked for a prettier face and a more beautiful soul? I don’t think so,” Terry said.
Denison’s aunt, Lauren Denison, reminded the crowd that “we still have a job to do: bring Brianna’s killer to justice.”