WICHITA — Authorities are bracing for a large crowd -- including protesters -- for the funeral of George Tiller today at College Hill United Methodist Church.
City officials are tight-lipped about security measures being taken to maintain the peace at the services for Tiller, 67. He was shot to death Sunday in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church, where he was serving as an usher.
"Many measures are being taken to protect the safety of the persons attending the funeral and residents that live in the area" of the church at 2930 E. First St., Deputy Chief Darren Moore said.
"Obviously, the resources are substantial," Moore said. "However, it won't sacrifice public safety in other areas of the city."
Law enforcement officials confirmed they anticipate Tiller's opponents to protest outside the church.
"We are committed... to ensure safety" for both those attending the funeral and protesters, said Daryl Ingermanson, chief deputy for the U.S. Marshals Kansas district. "The marshals will have an increased presence" at the funeral and for workers at clinics where abortions are performed.
Moore said authorities have designated an area for protesters to gather. He would not disclose which groups or how many protesters have said they will show up.
Among those expected are Fred Phelps and members of his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. A fax sent by the church said its members will picket during the hour before the funeral begins at 10 a.m.
Spirit One Christian Church pastor Mark Holick, a longtime critic of Tiller's, said no one from his church will be there.
Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group that organized the "Summer of Mercy" abortion protest campaign in 1991 during which Tiller's Women's Health Care Services was blockaded, will also stay away from the funeral.
Operation Rescue president Troy Newman said he will spend the day praying for Tiller and his family.
"It was a brutal murder, and that can't be supported in any way," Newman said. "Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, he was a human being."
The College Hill sanctuary holds about 700 people, and a fellowship hall may be used for overflow if necessary, church officials have said.
The Rev. Lowell Michelson, pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church, will conduct the service. Others will offer the eulogy and a reflection on Tiller's life.
Police officials said they expect the church parking lot to be able to handle most -- if not all -- of the vehicles anticipated.
If the lot fills up, they said, motorists can expect to park along nearby streets. Anyone who parks illegally will be ticketed, Moore warned.
Police do not expect to close streets to accommodate parking or traffic, Moore said, but officials have developed contingency plans in case that happens.