By WIBW Web Staff
Topeka, KS (WIBW) — Fred Phelps Sr., the former head of the Westboro Baptist Church, died late Wednesday night, according to a family member.
Phelps’ son, Timothy told 13 News that his father died just before midnight. Timothy Phelps works at the Shawnee Co. Jail.
Ironically, another son who is a member of the church, attorney Jonathan Phelps told us Thursday morning, “Pastor Phelps is doing just fine.” That, of course, could have been a spiritual reference.
Over the weekend, we learned that Phelps was reportedly “on the edge of death.”
In a statement on his Facebook page, Nathan Phelps, who has been estranged from his father for 30 years, said the senior Phelps was dying in hospice care in Topeka, Kan., and that he had been ex-communicated from his own church in August of 2013.
Fred Phelps was a man bent on delivering a message. He did it by becoming a lawyer and by becoming a minister.
Despite being disbarred in 1979, Fred Phelps pushed his name into the public eye, through the political arena in campaigns to vie for Senator and Governor. Phelps scored 30-percent of the vote in his 1992 senate bid.
In the early 90s, wearing sunglasses and a windbreaker, Fred Phelps was making a name for the family church by holding one of a barrage of picket signs, with the stark messages decrying homosexuality.
The Westboro notoriety spread quickly beyond Kansas. Topekans were targeted in hundreds upon hundreds of faxes sent from the Westboro Baptist Church
Phelps zeroed in on Topeka’s Gage Park with his decency drive. Some would try to stop him, including the CCT, (Concerned Citizens of Topeka). The City of Topeka tried ordinances restricting picketing outside homes and churches, but Phelps was a master litigator, filing lawsuits demanding millions and in some cases winning judgments of tens of thousands of dollars.
How two Topeka Police Chiefs, Gerald Beavers and Dean Forster would have TPD deal with WBC, led to major policy battles inside City Hall. Beavers resigned, ending his strategy of placating the Phelps with no-arrest orders.
By the close of the 1990s the Westboro message took another turn, opening with its protests at the funeral of slain Wyoming college student Matthew Shepherd. The protest gained Westboro, and Phelps, global notoriety.
As time marched through to the mid 2000s, the patriarch had faded from public view, but the world would take note of the Phelps children and grandchildren, and their protests of military funerals.
Missouri’s anti-picketing law upheld by a federal judge earlier this year.
In the end, Fred Phelps was ex-communicated from his own church by three of his children.
His descendants continue the protests, but who will lead the church after Phelps death is the question many in Topeka are asking now that Fred Phelps is gone.
Earlier this week, a current church elder told WIBW that they need no leader, their head is Jesus Christ.