Two funerals for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando were marred by ugly incidents Saturday, with Westboro Baptist Church protesters bringing their message of hate to one victim’s funeral, and another funeral the scene of a reckless driver running over two sheriff’s deputies, Fox News is reporting.
Christopher Leinonen was one of 49 people killed last week at the Pulse night club — a popular gay club in Orlando — when terrorist Omar Mateen opened fire in what would later be deemed the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
— Orlando Sentinel (@orlandosentinel) June 15, 2016
As his family, friends, and loved ones mourned his passing, a small number of members of the Westboro Baptist Church used the occasion to silently protest, according to Reuters. However, about 200 counter-protesters blocked the Westboro Baptist protesters’ view of the funeral. With help from the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s props department, counter-protesters wore “angel wings” measuring eight feet wide and three feet above shoulder height to block the view.
Orlando Shakespeare Theater (OST) has started the “Angel Wing Project,” for which the company will build large… https://t.co/nHMXt2WBb7
— Adam Levi (@sooprcheez) June 16, 2016
This was not the first time “angel wings” have been used at a gay man’s funeral — the wings first became associated with the funerals of gay victims of violence in 1998, at funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was murdered in Wyoming.
Also blocking the Westboro protesters from the funeral were about two dozen uniformed law enforcement officers.
Fortunately, the Westboro protesters left the area and retreated to their vehicles a short time later, as the crowd cheered and chanted “Orlando strong!”
Angel Gabriel Vasquez and his husband, Adam Vasquez, came from Pennsylvania to Orlando, where both men had grown up, specifically to show support for the Orlando gay community, according to the Washington Post.
“This is where we grew up. This is where we matured as young gay men. And to be Puerto Rican, Latin night was one of our favorite nights. This is where our hearts is.”
And Angel has some choice words for Westboro Baptist Church.
“[The church holds] just a sick, twisted view. They push people away from Christian religion. God loves everyone. He made me this way. I can’t help it. I tried to be normal, straight, but it’s who I am. It’s who I was made to be.”
Elsewhere in Orlando, another Pulse shooting victim’s funeral was marred by an impatient driver who ran over two sheriff’s deputies on their motorcycles.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, 44-year-old Ivonne Robles Morales got impatient while waiting for the funeral procession of an unnamed Pulse shooting victim moving through the Orlando suburb of Kissimmee. She attempted to cross through the line of vehicles and, in the process, struck two Osceola County Sheriff’s deputies who were on their motorcycles.
In a statement on the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page, the office confirmed the accident.
“Earlier today, two Osceola County Sheriff’s deputies assigned to the Motor Unit were struck by a motorist who, for whatever reason, refused to wait for a passing funeral escort. The funeral procession was for a victim of the Pulse Nightclub incident. Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the traffic crash.
Right now, our focus is on the health of our two motor deputies who are being treated at a local hospital.”
In a follow-up post early Sunday morning, the Sheriff’s Office stated that both officers, whose names have not been released as of this writing, are in stable condition and are being treated in area hospitals for fractures.
As of this writing, it is not clear if Westboro Baptist Church intends to remain in Orlando to protest more Pulse shooting victims’ funerals.
[Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images]