Ted S. Warren / AP
Ken Landgrebe lights a candle next to photographs of Susan Cox Powell and her sons Braden and Charlie, during a candlelight vigil at McKinley Park in Tacoma, Wash., on Monday.
SEATTLE – Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-gay church best known for protesting military funerals, says its members will be at Saturday’s memorial service for Charlie and Braden Powell, the two children who died when their father allegedly set fire to his house.
The small Topeka, Kan.-based church, known for its extreme opposition to homosexuality, claims the boys' deaths are payback from God over the Washington state Legislature's support of gay marriage.
Hundreds of people have already vowed online to show up to keep the Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting the funeral, which will be at Life Center Church in Tacoma at 11 a.m.
Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, died Sunday when their father, Josh Powell, intentionally set fire to his home in Graham, Wash., police said. The boys arrived there on a supervised visit, but Powell locked the supervisor out of the house. Authorities say Powell, already under investigation in the disappearance of his wife in Utah two years ago, attacked his sons with an ax before all three died in the fire and explosion.
On her Twitter feed Wednesday, Margie J. Phelps wrote “Westboro will picket the funerals of the Powell boys, Sat.,2/11, 12:15p, to remind @GovGregoire they died because of her rebellion,” and “This is why God's cursed you w Josh Powells blowing up kids.”
Phelps is the daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps. Her tweet did not explain how picketing the funeral was a protest against same-sex marriage.
Washington state lawmakers have passed legislation that would make Washington the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Gov. Christine Gregoire is expected to sign the bill next week, but it likely will face a voter referendum in November before it can become law.
Almost immediately after Phelps’ tweets, an online campaign began to counterprotest Westboro. A Facebook page called “Keep Westboro Church away from Powell Memorial” was launched calling on people to show up at 10 a.m.
“We will be out in full force to help create a buffer so this memorial can take place peacefully,” the page read.
Members of Occupy Seattle are also expected to be there to stand up against Westboro.
Josh Powell's sister, Alina, responded to the threatened Westboro protest.
"This is a horrible, disdainful act that serves no purpose other than to continue the years-long objectification of those little boys. Charlie and Braden were not trophies to be won and paraded around; they were not bait to ferret out "guilt" in a man; they were not 'evidence' in a 'crime'; and they most certainly are not political pawns to be used by a church to spread yet more messages of HATE! They are only little boys and they deserve better! I am LIVID that my nephews continue to be used as a tactical maneuver, and I am LIVID that their service will be besmirched by an event a loving God would never approve! Please let my nephews rest in peace!!" said Alina, according to king5.com.
"Hate has taken far too great a toll on us ALL already!--Please, STOP THE HATE!"
Westboro has shown up in Western Washington before, protesting military funerals. However, Westboro has promised to show up at other events in the past and failed to do so.
Josh Powell had lost custody of the boys last fall after his father, Steven Powell, was arrested on voyeurism charges. Josh was already under investigation in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, two years ago in Utah. Police revealed this week that the Susan Powell case is now a murder investigation.
King5.com and msnbc.com staff contributed to this story.
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