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Shepard Family Declines to Comment on Fred Phelps’ Death

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

The parents of slain gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard declined to discuss Wednesday’s death of ex-pastor Fred Phelps, whose protests of their son’s funeral in Casper in 1998 garnered worldwide attention.

Jason Marsden, executive director of the Denver-based Matthew Shepard Foundation, read a statement from Judy Shepard on Thursday:

“Regarding the passing of Fred Phelps, Dennis and I know how solemn these moments are for anyone who loses a loved one. Out of respect for all people and our desire to erase hate, we’ve decided not to comment further.”

Phelps founded the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church in 1955. While it had gained some attention for its anti-gay protests in the 1990s, it became internationally famous for protesting Matt Shepard’s funeral at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in October 1998.

Homosexuality was ruining America, according to Phelps and the church. They later conducted virulent protests against sporting events, churches of all denominations and funerals of soldiers.

Late Saturday, his estranged son Nathan Phelps posted that his father was living in a hospice and “on the edge of death” since August after he lost a power struggle within the church.

Thursday, the Topeka Capital-Journal’s website reported Shirley Phelps-Roper confirmed her father’s death had occurred late Wednesday.

The Westboro Baptist Church’s website posted a comment on one of its blog sites on Thursday acknowledging its founder’s demise. The post castigated the media, but did little to commemorate  his life:

“The world-wide media has been in a frenzy during the last few days, gleefully anticipating the death of Fred Waldron Phelps Sr.  It has been an unprecedented, hypocritical, vitriolic explosion of words…. So – the death of Fred Phelps’ body, a man who preached a plain faithful doctrine to an ever darkening world, is nothing but a vain, empty, hypocritical hope for you.”

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