About 200 people attended a community meeting in Marion Wednesday night. The meeting dealt with the controversy surrounding Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church and the group's planned protests on Sunday.
"We've never had anything like this come to our community," said Marion Police Chief Josh Whitwell before the meeting. Whitwell is working with all of the churches in town to prepare for the unexpected.
He says seven Westboro church members are expected to protest infront of four of the city's churches.
The controversial Topeka based church says it will protest in Marion because that is the home town of Ryan Newell.
Newell walked out of the Sedgwick County Jail on Tuesday afternoon.
The disabled Afghanistan veteran was released on his own recognizance and ordered to report to the VA hospital in Wichita. Newell's $500,000 bond still stands.
Newell was arrested last week after officers saw him following members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The group is known for picketing at soldier funerals in protest of what they see as the country's acceptance of homosexuality.
Original Story, December 5
The veteran accused of stalking members of the Westboro Baptist Church is prompting a new protest. Westboro plans to protest outside of every church in Marion, the town Ryan Newell was living before his arrest. Newell is in jail, accused of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, stalking, criminal use of weapons and impersonating an officer.
Westboro member Shirley Phelps-Roper says the protest in Marion is in reaction to the arrest of Newell. They also plan to protest outside a church in his home town of Goddard. "That's why Ryan lost his legs, so these people can have the right to do that. We don't have to like it," said Pastor Carl Helm.
"We've never had anything like this come to our community," said Marion Police Chief Josh Whitwell. Whitwell is working with all of the churches in town to prepare for the unexpected. "In a small town they will take it personally and they're going to feel they're being personally attacked," said Pastor Helm.
Helm knows first hand what it's like to deal with protests from the Topeka group. He used to run a church in Topeka. He says there's only one way to handle the protests. "They love confrontation, I think the greatest way we can act is to just ignore them," he said. Helm knows it will be tough but says people need to show restraint against Westboro. "The sad thing is they never get arrested because they know the law, they know exactly what they can do," he said.
Chief Whitwell wants to make sure residents also know the law. He's holding a public meeting on the issue Wednesday December 8. It's at six o'clock at the city auditorium. "We may not like Mr. Phelps' organization or believe the message they are putting out, but we are going to be there to keep the peace and make sure things go smoothly," Whitwell said.
Newell is being held on a $500,000. His attorney Boyd McPherson says with generous donations from the public, he expects Newell to bond out early this week. McPherson says he's received dozens of phone calls from people all over the nation supporting Newell. He says his voice mail box has filled up more than once. McPherson says Newell is overwhelmed by everything.
Whitwell says he's not surprised by all of the support. He says Newell is a great guy who has the support from his family, friends and community. "He's been through so much already, it's sad. I don't condone his actions but I sympathize with him and hope he gets the help he needs. We will continue to support Sgt. Newell," he said. Eyewitness News also spoke with Newell's mother-in-law. She says his wife doesn't want to make any public comments but she does support her husband.