CORVALLIS, Ore. - An extremist group has promised to protest the funeral of an Oregon soldier who was killed in the line of duty and folks are planning to come together to protect those who are mourning the loss.
You may have heard about the Westboro Baptist Church. They are notorious for picketing the funerals of military members and gay people. There are many who believe what they do is offensive and that they make what is a tough time for those mourning the loss of a loved one even tougher.
Once word got out that the church was planning to protest Sunday's funeral for 24-year-old Pfc. Cody James Patterson, an 'anti-protest' of sorts began to form. Another group has been organized through social media and they are planning to keep the protesters back, in a peaceful manner.
Matt Enloe, a junior at Oregon State University, started the Facebook page OSU Support for the Patterson Family. His goal was to bring people together on Sunday to protect the soldier's family and keep the protesters from disrupting the funeral service. And he's received an outpouring of support.
"I expected maybe 20 or 30 people to join the Facebook event that I made because I wanted to coordinate some friends," he said. "I wasn't sure who would be interested in it and then it just started going."
As of Friday afternoon, over 1,300 people had replied on the Facebook page, saying they would be there in support of Cody James Patterson and his family. Enloe expects that number to grow as Sunday nears.
Police in Corvallis are urging anyone who shows up at Patterson's funeral to remain peaceful and refrain from any direct contact with the Westboro protesters.
Patterson was born in Corvallis and graduated from Philomath High School in 2007. He joined the Army as an infantryman on Jan. 3, 2012, and was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Benning, Ga. in November 2012.
On Oct. 6, 2013, Patterson was among four soldiers who were killed in the Zhari district of Afghanistan. They were on a combat mission to stop a suicide bomber when an improvised explosive device went off. Patterson was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart and NATO Medal.
His funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Oregon State University's LaSells Steward Center. The public is welcome. A USO representative said 90 rangers from the 2nd Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be there to help lay Patterson to rest.
Gov. John Kitzhaber has ordered flags at half-staff across Oregon on Sunday in honor of Patterson.