Thursday, February 16, 2012

Community members gather to show support for family of slain Powell boys

Bikers, Occupiers and Tacoma mourners attend memorial service

By Reno Sorensen, Copy Editor

Tacoma residents, bikers, journalists and hundreds of others from across Washington state stood grim-faced and quiet outside the memorial of Braden, age five, and Charlie Powell, age seven, at Life Center Assembly Saturday morning.

Left to Right: Heather McCully, Tammie Berman and Holly Titus display their message of love in a vigil across the street from the memorial of the Powell children Saturday morning. The group, called “Share the Love,” was organized by Tacoma residents Owen Anderson and Stacy Chan in response to the possibility of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing the event. Photo by Reno Sorensen

Many wore purple ribbons in remembrance of the boys’ mother, Susan Cox Powell, who went missing in Utah in 2009.

Braden and Charlie died Feb. 5 when their father, Joshua Powell, trapped them in his house and set the building on fire. The social worker who brought the boys for a supervised visit called the authorities immediately after the fire started. Joshua Powell, who also died in the fire, was the only person of interest in the disappearance of his wife.

Roughly 200 members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association attended to support the families of the children and shield mourners from any hate speech outside the church. Tacoma Chapter President Steve Allen said the bikers were not there in response to the possibility of the Westboro Baptist Church’s presence.

“Mainly we want to support the family,” Allen said. “We’re a Christian organization, and we want to show that God is a God of love.” 

The bikers, bearded, clad in leather jackets and jeans, stood outside the church and formed a protective corridor for mourners who would walk to their cars at the end of the funeral. 

Margie Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based independent organization known for picketing military funerals and aggressive anti-gay campaigning, said in a Twitter message the week prior that Westboro members would protest the service in response to Governor Christine Gregoire’s gay-marriage legislation, which passed in the state House and Senate recently.

Westboro leader Fred Phelps called off the protest in a tweet Friday night. A Tacoma radio talk show host had offered Phelps air time provided Westboro members stay away from the funeral.

Across the street, “Share the Love,” a group started on Facebook by high school friends and Tacoma residents Owen Anderson and Stacey Chan, held up signs that simply said “love” in red paint on a white paper.

“We wanted to make sure any negative messages were drowned out by love,” Anderson said.

Chan got involved when she saw online that the Westboro Baptist Church had plans to picket the service.

“I saw it on my Facebook – my friends and I just weren’t happy that they [Westboro] would bring that to our community,” Chan said.

Members of the Occupy movement from Tacoma, Olympia and Seattle also came to show their solidarity.

Occupy Tacoma participant Deborah Petri, 43, said that it is the responsibility of organizations like Occupy, as parts of the community, to support the family in its time of need. 

After the funeral, the boys’ single white casket was transported from the church in a white hearse followed by the family in a limousine and an escort of motorcycles, law enforcement vehicles and pedestrian mourners wearing Susan Cox Powell’s purple.