By Frank Lewis
Funeral arrangements have been set for Justin Helton, the Pike County soldier killed earlier in the week in Afghanistan.
Mike Bell, first vice commander of American Legion Post 471 in Portsmouth, who has been involved in helping to provide motorcycle escorts for the soldier’s body, said the funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Beaver Eastern High School in Beaver, Ohio, under the direction of the Boyer Funeral Home.
“There’s going to be a rally at 7 a.m. Saturday in Tracy Park, and kickstands go up at 7:30 (a.m.),” Bell said. “We will head to Waverly where there will be a mandatory 8:30 (a.m.) meeting with the Patriot Guards. Then we will be going to Columbus to escort Justin Helton back to the funeral home at Boyer’s in Waverly.”
Bell said he has received a commitment from the Community EMS service to travel with the entourage all the way to Columbus. “I talked to a contact of mine at the (Scioto County) Sheriff’s Office and they’re going to try their best to get someone to at least lead us out of Portsmouth.”
Motorcycle riders, law enforcement agents from around the state and region, and concerned citizens are expected to form a human barrier around the funeral for Helton, a 2006 graduate of Eastern High School.
While the main reason for the barrier and the escort is to show respect and honor for the soldier, a flyer from the group known as Westboro Baptist Church has emerged, causing apprehension that that group may show up to picket the young man’s funeral services.
The church has been involved in actions against an array of groups, including gay people and those who have died while serving their country, since at least 1991, when it sought a crackdown on homosexual activity at Gage Park six blocks northwest of the church. In addition to conducting protests at military funerals, the organization pickets other celebrity funerals and public events. Protests have also been held against Jews and Catholics, and some protests have included WBC members stomping on the American flag.
The latest flyer circulating in light of the funeral services for Helton, reads - “Thank God for 10 more dead troops,” and “Thank God for 3 dead oath-breakers,” among other things.
When the Daily Times carried a story about the church’s possible picketing of the funeral on Wednesday, that organization responded with several Tweets from the account @WBCSays. Among those responses were - “We hope this is not a circus,” and “WBC’s duty is to shine the gospel light into your dark hearts and to warn this doomed world.”
Chaplain, Kevin Greene, will officiate at the funeral. Burial will follow in Germany Cemetery, Beaver, Ohio. Friends may call at the Eastern High School 3 – 8 p.m. Sunday and one hour prior to the service on Monday.
The Westboro Baptist Church is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination. The Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention (the two largest Baptist denominations) have each denounced the WBC over the years.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.