TOPEKA, KS (WMBF) The controversial church congregation out of Topeka, Kansas that is known for contentious remarks and actions at the funerals of fallen soldiers has declared it will make the trip to Mullins High School on Wednesday.
Gunnery Sergeant Ralph E. Pate, Jr., 29, of Mullins was an explosive ordnance disposal technician assigned to Second EOD Company, Eighth Engineer Support Battalion, Second Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, NC.
WMBF News spoke to Pate's family Tuesday about WBC's planned protest. The family says it's a major burden in an already tough time, but they're doing what they can to ignore it.
"It is about saying goodbye to EJ not about anything else. This is the family time tomorrow. It's to pay the last respects to EJ. Let the family mourn and move on," said John Ryan, Pate's brother-in-law.
Flags are still at half staff in Pate's hometown and residents there say they're appalled by WBC's attempt to ruin their local hero's funeral service.
"Our town doesn't think much of these people coming here and doing that even though they have the right to do it, it's not the right thing to do," said Mullins resident Reggie McDaniel.
Pate was killed while fighting in Helmut Province of Afghanistan on June 26. The hero's body was returned home July 4 on a flight into the Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Along with Pate's family members, more than 200 bikers from groups like Rolling Thunder, Patriot Guard Riders, and the American Legion were at the General Aviation terminal to escort Pate back to Mullins.
The Westboro Baptist Church press release noted the group will be in "respectful, lawful proximity" to Pate's funeral service at Mullins High School Wednesday, July 6 at 3 p.m.