TOPEKA, Kan (WIBW) Fred Phelps Sr., the former head of the Westboro Baptist Church, died late Wednesday night, according to a family member.
Phelps' son, Timothy told 13 News that his father died just before midnight. Timothy Phelps works at the Shawnee Co. Jail.
Ironically, another son who is a member of the church, attorney Jonathan Phelps told us Thursday morning that Pastor Phelps "is doing fine." That could have been a spiritual reference.
Margie Phelps, Phleps daughter, told WIBW-AM that there will be no funeral for him.
Over the weekend, we learned that Phelps was reportedly "on the edge of death."
In a statement on his Facebook page, Nathan Phelps, who has been estranged from his father for 30 years, said the senior Phelps was dying in hospice care in Topeka, Kan., and that he had been ex-communicated from his own church in August of 2013.
Later in the day, Westboro Baptist Church tweeted this message, which included a link to its statement regarding Phelps' death.
In their commentary, they said:
God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world. That is the pinnacle of your hopes, and by far the most vain. Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, or the power of God.
Phelps' granddaughter Megan Phelps-Roper sent several tweets about her grandfather's passing:
"One way or another, he's at peace. There's only Heaven or peaceful nothingness. That's what I think." RIP, Gramps. I love you forever.— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 20, 2014
I'm so sorry for the harm he caused. That we all caused. But he could be so kind and wonderful. I wish you all could have seen that, too.— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 20, 2014
I understand those who don't mourn his loss, but I'm thankful for those who see that "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 20, 2014
Love and peace to all. The world needs more of both. That's the part of Gramps I'll keep and share with others.— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 20, 2014
Topekans had mixed reactions to the news of Phelps' passing and many flocked to the site of the church to take pictures of it and in front of the rainbow-decorated Equality House across the street.
Equality House is a project by the tolerance group Planting Peace. Director of Operations Davis Hammet told 13 News the group has been in the house for a year now. Hammet said they wanted to spin a bad situation into a positive one.
"We're all saddened by [Fred's] passing. It's another human life gone, he's a family man and it's unfortunate. Although we have stark disagreements with the foundations of WBC, it's still unfortunate that they lost a loved one."
Hammet said the best reaction to Phelps' death is love.
"Even if we have disagreements we have to get over it and see the higher purpose of respecting each other."
Topeka resident Linda Bierley brought pins that displayed an X'd out "Fred" on them to pass out.
"Fred has been around for a long time and he has just been such an evil-spirited man and caused so much harm and pain to families that didn't deserve it."
Roger Laubengayer came to the Equality House with his family. His daughter, Rebecca is visiting from California and she wanted to see the house.
"Maybe we can move on and Topeka can be known for something else besides Fred Phelps. It was kind of a circus, the whole thing, not sure how seriously some people took it, but anything we can do to promote more love and understanding would be great."
Rebecca and her partner are getting married soon, and Roger said he just wants them to feel comfortable in Topeka.
"Westboro Baptist Church was different for me because I support my daughter and I want her to feel comfortable here and their program didn't make her feel comfortable."
Rebecca said that people in California know the Phelpses. They've seen them and their pickets, and Rebecca said he is generally unliked there because Californians are more liberal and don't like his message.
"I feel bad for his family. We have to remember he was a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather first. Some people do crazy things and just because they do crazy things doesn't make them less human."
Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast released the following statement:
“I believe we should respect the Phelps family’s right to mourn their loss at this time. Topeka is a strong and vibrant city that will continue to move forward, past destructive hate and intolerance, as a city of compassion and acceptance. We must continue to respect and value each individual.”
Posted by Greg Palmer and Nick Viviani