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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A controversial church group known for protesting military funerals says it will come to the Cape Fear to protest the funeral of a Wilmington soldier killed last week in Afghanistan.

“Our military fights for the freedom of ridiculous individuals to air their dirty laundry,” says Tom Russell, the founder of Step Up For Soldiers.

A news release on the website of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS, lists Sgt. T.J. Butler, 25, of Wilmington, on its latest “Roster of the Damned.” The release says “Thank God for 18 more dead troops.” Two other North Carolina soldiers killed with Butler in a suicide attack in a market in the eastern Afghanistan city of Khost Monday are also listed among the 18 fallen service members.

For years, Westboro Baptist Church has claimed America’s war dead are God’s punishment for the country embracing homosexuality. According to the release, church members say, “We will picket their funerals in their home towns (sic) in respectful and lawful proximity thereof.”

The small community of Hampstead, where Butler is from has stepped up in support of him and his family. Several businesses along Highway 17 have put up signs in support.

“Everywhere,” says Jeremy Sawyer, a close friend of Butler. “Putting up signs for the family and for him. Praying for him.”

“He was very well known here, very well loved,” says Candice Nettell, who works at the Wild Hawg Saloon in Hampstead. “A lot of people are very upset about it.”

“What I’d like to know is who’s going to give them lodging here and who’s going to rent them a car,” Russell says. “We all have to stay vigilent. That’s the only way we can defend ourselves and not sell ourselves to other people. We don’t want them here. Don’t lodge them here.In August, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law that, among many other things, restricts protesters from gathering within 300 feet of a military funeral two hours before or two hours after a funeral service has taken place.”

According to a his obituary published Saturday in the StarNews, Sgt. Butler’s funeral arrangements are being handled by Andrews Mortuary in Wilmington. The funeral home’s website says arrangements cannot be made until Butler’s body returns to Wilmington from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. He arrived there earlier this week.

Friends of Butler say his family is still waiting to bring his body back home to North Carolina and believe his funeral will most likely take place Wednesday or Thursday.

Matt Wall, the president of Rolling Thunder Chapter 3 in Wilmington, says he has been in contact with the Butler family, who is requesting as much support and involvement from veteran/military groups as possible.

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51 Comments on "Community reacts to controversial church protesting Wilmington soldier’s funeral"

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2016 years 2 months ago

People have a right to their beliefs, with this being said; If it were not for these soldiers who so valiantly lost thier lives these people would not HAVE THE RIGHT to protest anything. Ignorance and hatred are TAUGHT, so are Love and Acceptance. God bless all soldiers and the family of this and every fallen hero

Don Ward
2016 years 2 months ago

It’s pretty sad that America can’t save military families from this cruel harassment.

D. Ward

2016 years 2 months ago

America’s war dead are God’s punishment for the country embracing homosexuality. ?????
Couldn’t believe what I was reading. What type of “moonie” zombie church would say such a thing.
some place calling itself a church places a negetive image for true believers .
Protest a man’s funeral who was killed in combat protecting our country makes no sense at all.
This man, according to news stories and his wife ,has nothing to even do with homosexuality.
someone should close down this “pretend” church . They should be in their own town praying for this country and mankind NOT going around… Read more »

2016 years 2 months ago

This group calls itself Baptist, but Baptist doctrine would not tolerate this kind of behavior. They are activists with their own cause.

2016 years 2 months ago


You might have freedom of speech, and apparently you have the right to be a complete idiot. What wrath is “God” imposing? We don’t even have evidence of a God and all of a sudden he is sending down his wrath… How about pull your head out of you know where and think, but I’m under the impression that would be terribly hard for you. These men and women are going to war! In war people die! There has never been a war in which no one died… It’s not God’s wrath it’s common sense you idiot.

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