Several dozen people lined the corner of Fort Hood Street and U.S. Highway 190 on Wednesday morning holding signs reading, “Honk if you support our troops,” as horns echoed while motorists buzzed by.
The event was staged as a counterprotest to a controversial group that posted on Twitter it would picket the April 2 Fort Hood shooting memorial on post.
The ceremony outside Fort Hood’s III Corps Headquarters on Wednesday honored the three soldiers killed and 16 wounded last week when Spc. Ivan A. Lopez opened fire before taking his own life.
More than 50 residents began assembling at the corner around 8:30 a.m. holding up signs reading “We are Army strong” and “God Bless Our Troops” to thwart possible protests by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. — a group notorious for protesting military funerals, including several in Central Texas. DeeDee Carden said soldiers at Fort Hood are family and she wanted to show her support. “If we can keep one family from seeing hate and vicious ugliness on the way to honor those who are never coming back, then I’m all for that.”
Carden, holding a sign reading “Love Is Stronger Than Hate,” said she was standing on the corner “just to spread love.”
Shannon Baylor said she saw a post on Facebook that Westboro was planning to picket the memorial service and wanted to counterprotest with “a positive message.”
“We don’t need to stoop down to their level with hatefulness,” she said. “We want to show the positive side, and that there are people who support our troops.”
Hilary Shine, spokeswoman for the city of Killeen, said Westboro Baptist Church did not have a permit to picket, but the city only requires a group to attain one if it exceeds 25 people.
“They know that rule from all the times in the past that they have been here,” she said. “They usually don’t reach that 25 mark, so they don’t have to get a permit.”
Shine said the city doesn’t have record of how many times the group has been to the area, but said “they’re no stranger” to Killeen.
“For a while they were here picketing every military funeral,” she said.
The group posted on its Twitter Wednesday morning that “signs will be ubiquitous at (Fort) Hood memorial.”
Crystal Fox, who got a permit to assemble, said the counterprotest is “all about showing our support for our soldiers.”
“Westboro just has a lot of hateful things, and our troops have gone through a lot, especially here at Fort Hood,” she said. “It’s the least we can do for the families who lost a loved one.”
With a large sign painted red, white and blue reading “Rest in Peace,” Fox said she was impressed with the number of people who joined her to show their support.
“There’s more people than I thought there would be,” she said. “I would stand out here by myself, but it’s nice to see that there are so many like-minded people who feel the same way I do.”
Spokeswoman Tina Amerson said the Killeen Police Department didn’t receive any notification that a group from Westboro was in Killeen. Westboro did not return calls for comment.