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Police pleased with response to demonstrators

Staff writer

Area law enforcement officers were standing in front of Marion High School on the north side of Main Street by 7:30 a.m. Tuesday in preparation for a demonstration by Westboro Baptist members scheduled for 7:50.

Officers from Marion, Hillsboro, Peabody, and Florence police departments, Marion County sheriff’s office, and Kansas Highway Patrol were prepared for a counter demonstration.

“I could have stayed in bed a little longer,” Marion Police Chief Josh Whitwell said.

Whitwell said the only comment anyone made to the demonstrators was, “A good day to all.”

“That’s just Marion,” Whitwell said of the everyday greeting. “It was the only comment and it was a good one.”

The extent of the counter protest was Steve Unruh, of Marion, who stood on the other side of the street. Though Unruh is a veteran, he did not say anything in response to the demonstration.

“I spoke up at the town meeting (Dec. 8),” Unruh said. “I offered to escort kids. I gave my word so I have to be here.”

Unruh’s offer to escort students was unnecessary. Students drove around the protesters, the majority ignoring them with the exception of the occasional glance.

Students walking to school avoided the demonstrators all together, entering the school east and west of the demonstration.

“It couldn’t have played out better,” Whitwell said. “The students did exactly what we asked of them. The town did exactly what we asked of them. I’m really proud of everyone.”

Whitwell advised Marion residents at the town meeting to ignore the protesters. The school had an assembly for students Monday asking them to ignore the demonstrators on their way to school.

“Our students have done a great job and our staff has done a great job,” USD 408 superintendent Lee Leiker said. “We can make this an education experience. This is part of our rights as citizens in this country.”

Last modified Dec. 15, 2010

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