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Ex-Westboro Baptist Church member apologizes to Missouri soldier's parents

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, at 6:21 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, at 6:40 a.m.

On an episode of Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show Wednesday, Libby Phelps Alvarez, a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, tearfully apologized to the family of a slain Army soldier from Columbia, Mo.

Libby Phelps Alvarez apologized to Sherry and Randy Wyatt for picketing the funerals of soldiers like their son, Sterling, who was killed in Afghanistan last summer.

Alvarez is the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the church's founder.

Sherry Wyatt had her say, too. She showed the cloth held by supporters on the day of the funeral to shield the family from the Westboro protesters.

"Our son died to ensure freedom of assembly, to ensure freedom of speech, to ensure freedoms for those that are white, black, gay, straight, rich, poor ... All that we get from your actions is just a show of absolute hate," the mother of the dead soldier said on the show.

"We had thousands stand shoulder to shoulder in 105-degree heat, we had businesses bringing in water, we had our American Legion Auxiliary cooking hot dogs, we had people setting up health stations because of the heat. That is community, that is church."

Wyatt told Columbia media that meeting Alvarez at the show's taping this month was "shocking," a surreal experience to sit in the same studio with someone who once prided herself on protesting at soldier funerals.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," Alvarez said on the show. "I just look back now and see I was hurting people."

Wyatt said on the show that she felt absolute dread when she heard that the church planned to send protesters to her son's funeral.

"I just feel sad, I'm sorry," replied Alvarez.

Wyatt told the Columbia Daily Tribune that it was surprising to see "how somebody who's obviously intelligent could be brainwashed."

She told the newspaper that going on the show was a positive experience. "Anderson asked me what I wanted to say to the congregation. I said something like, 'I want you to know you are not saving me from anything. All I hear is your hate,'" she said.

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