Friends and family said goodbye to one of six men killed in last weekend's grain elevator explosion in Atchison on Thursday, while many more people gathered to shield the mourners from picketers from the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Topeka-based "church" - made up mostly of the immediate family of Fred Phelps - said that they were picketing the funeral of 21-year-old Ryan Federinko because "God sent the explosion” that killed Federinko and five others. Hundreds of people, including Kenny Martinez and his friends from St. Joseph, gathered to shield the funeral from the picketers.
"Even though we are from st. Joe, we rode in this morning to support Atchison and the families in Atchison," said Martinez. "We're Americans, we believe everyone should have the right to a good funeral. You know them kids that lost their lives there was a tragedy, a real tragedy, and anyone that don't see that is real confused."
The Westboro group, which has gathered international notoriety for picketing the funerals of military personel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan - saying the deaths were "God's will" for America's acceptance of homosexuals, arrived about 30 minutes before the funeral, and were immediately greeted by a singing human shield that blocked an intersection, keeping their message from ever reaching the funeral home where Federinko was laid to rest.
"You've got to be a strong person," said Courtney Birkinsha, a friend of Federinko. "You have to turn your back."
"I really couldn't see because everyone did a pretty good job of blocking them off, but I did see a couple signs that just don't make sense," said Atchison resident Brian Hoytal.
The Westboro group finally left after about 15 minutes.
"It really touches you, this is a heartfelt group of people in Atchison and I'm proud to be part of it," said Martinez.