Widow reacts to church founder's death

By Amanda Porterfield | aporterfield@wcia.com

Published 03/20 2014 11:30PM

Updated 03/21 2014 10:55AM

THOMASBORO -- He led the church which protested hundreds of military funerals and families hope this man's death brings change. WCIA-3's Amanda Porterfield has the story.

"He hurt a lot of people," says Christina Penrod of Fred Phelps who founded Westboro Baptist Church.
He died Wednesday night but left behind bitter memories for many families of the fallen. It's a day Penrod will never forget, but says she's spoken to many other military widows about Phelps. Their one hope is the messages of hate die with him.

"It was love at first sight. We went on our first date and he never left," says Penrod.

That is until August 11t, 2007, when Army Specialist Justin Penrod was killed in Bagdad.

"He was the love of my life and he was just like, he would step in the room and he would just light it up," says Penrod.

Penrod says her memory of the one day she had to say goodbye is blurred, because of Westboro Baptist Church.

"One person had the typical sign 'God Hates Fags' and the other one was 'Thank God for Dead Soldiers.' It was really hurtful, there I am burying my husband and I see this. He went over there and fought for your freedom to protest his funeral," says Penrod.

Now seven years later, it's safe to say Penrod isn't sad to see Fred Phelps go. He founded Westboro and died in hospice at 84 years old.

"I'm glad that he died because I am hoping that it will stop the protesting even though it probably won't. I read a line that they don't want protestors at his funeral and I thought, 'How ironic,' because there are going to be people out there," says Penrod.

Penrod says if she could ask him one thing, "I would ask him, 'Why? What made you so hatred about everybody that you had to go protest military funerals?'"

Penrod's son, Colin, was only 8 months old when his dad died. She's worked hard to make sure he's remembered and says that's why she won't tell him about the protests until he's old enough.

"I don't want him to know that people put ill will towards his dad and that people protested him. He is seven. He doesn't need to know the bad about the world. He needs to know the good. And the good was that his daddy fought and his daddy died and we are living free because of daddy," says Penrod.

There's no word if the church will stop its protests, however, a look at the website shows no break in its picket schedule.

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