WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The remains of an Army National Guard member returned to Wilmington Wednesday morning. Several people gathered to greet the family with a line of American flags at the airport.
Streets were lined with red, white and blue as the flag flew at half staff. You could hear a pin drop as Sgt. TJ Butler's casket was removed from the plane.
Six men in uniform carried his body from the airport hangar to his family, who saw Butler for the first time since he left for Afghanistan.
Sgt. Butler was killed last week by a suicide bomber. He was one of three National Guard members killed from North Carolina.
Butler's body was escorted to Andrews Mortuary in Wilmington Wednesday morning.
A visitation will be Thursday, Oct. 11 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Andrews Mortuary in Wilmington. You can leave sympathy notes here. The funeral is scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in Wilmington.
Patriot Guard members say they've been invited by Butler's family to attend the funeral services. In fact, the Patriot Guard has been invited to attend all three funerals for those killed.
Controversy started surrounding this incident when members of the Westboro Baptist Church said they would protest Butler's funeral as well as the other two guard members who were killed. On Tuesday around 3 p.m., the daughter of the church's leader, Margie Phelps, tweeted anchor Michelle Li this message:
"Westboro will picket in NC. The soldiers died for the sins of this nation. Too late for them. We warn the living to obey God."
Ron Faggart, the state captain of the Patriot Guard of North Carolina said he doubts the Westboro Baptist Church will make it all the way to the Tar Heel state. Faggart says that's how the WBC operates - they operate by sending empty threats to get a community frazzled.
Faggart says because of this, he's had to beg people to not attend funerals if their intentions have been to start trouble.
"If you're not there for the right reason, we do not want people there," said Faggart. "We know that most of the time, they're making empty threats to scare the community."
Faggart says he's heard a tremendous response from the Wilmington community. Though the other two people killed were from Greensboro and Raeford, Wilmington citizens have been the most vocal, he said.
Many people on Facebook have started an effort to form a human wall on the day of Butler's funeral. Faggart says he would rather see a street lined with people holding American flags. A human wall might seem inflammatory, and there are laws in place to protect the family from protestors. And, if the WBC does indeed show up, police will put them in a designated area where family can't see them. The Patriot Guard would also be able to put their backs to protestors while holding American flags.
UPDATE: One of the organizers of the human wall, Danielle Bashaw, says she has now turned the movement into a wall of support, but she wanted to keep the name the same to avoid confusion. The page, "Human wall for a fallen soldier" is a Facebook event page that has more than 11,000 members.
"People from all over the nation have reached out," said Cheryl Penney, co-organizer of Human wall. "Soldiers overseas are giving us their support."
"This is going to be a very peaceful, honorable event that we're trying to plan," said Penney. "We want him to have an honorable ride home. This is going to be final resting place and we want that to be a road of honor."
"People will line the sidewalk all down Market St. during the funeral creating a human shield," said Danielle Bashaw, co-organizer. "The response is overwhelming and nothing I had ever imagined."
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