“It was a very good service,” said those who attended the memorial for Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler held Tuesday morning at Trinity United Methodist Church in Muldrow.
Master Sgt. Wheeler, originally from Roland and a Muldrow High School graduate, was killed Oct. 22 in a firefight with ISIS militants in Iraq’s Kirkuk province, where it was reported 70 hostages were to be executed. The Department of Defense reported the hostages were saved. Master Sgt. Wheeler is considered the first U.S. soldier killed in the war against the militant ISIS group.
Funeral services for Sgt. Wheeler were held last week at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. He is survived by his wife, four sons, his grandparents and five siblings.
The church was surrounded by various law enforcement officers after Sheriff Ron Lockhart was informed of a posting on the Internet by Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. According to the church’s website, the church is “an old school, or Primitive Baptist Church”, who claim that “America is ‘deeply (irreversibly) corrupt,’” and “Thank God for 5 more dead troops.” The flyer continues, “We will preach to the living at their funerals in their home towns. . . .” The first name on the church’s “Roster of the Damned” is Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler of Roland.
Fearing there might be a demonstration and disruption at the memorial service, Lockhart called in other law enforcement agencies and many officers surrounded the church. They included officers from the Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Office, the Roland, Muldrow and Sallisaw Police Departments, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol with a bomb-detecting dog that cleared the church and secured the site before the service. Officers also blocked alternative exits with their vehicles and at least one officer at the back of the church was armed with an assault rifle.
No protesters or demonstrators were at the service and as a final salute to Master Sgt. Wheeler, the police officers lined up in the church foyer as an honor guard at the conclusion of the service.
Lockhart said the extra security was because of the threat by the Westboro Baptist Church to demonstrate and “Just to be safe and respectful for the family of Sgt. Wheeler.”
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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