Friday was a great day to be undead in DuPont – warm, but not sunny enough to melt fickle flesh.
The city was crawling with enough cops to protect the rights of even the vilest of creatures.
And, just before noon, eight members of Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan., showed up to hate on the military. They did it on the fringes of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in perhaps the most military-friendly city in Washington.
Zombies love a good laugh.
That is why they mobilized after Westboro’s lawyer faxed DuPont Police Chief Ron Goodpaster that church members were planning to drop by between 11:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. “for a public demonstration/outdoor religious service regarding the judgment of God with respect to the dangers of promoting homosexuality, and the rest of the filthy manner of life and idol worshipping of this nation.”
The minute Melissa Neace, 27, of Spanaway learned of the visit, she realized mockery was the best response.
“We wanted to turn something negative around, into something people could laugh at and poke fun at,” she said, dripping gore onto a picnic table. “It was the easiest way to divert attention from something so hateful.”
Neace summoned her hordes in the traditional way: She built a Facebook group, “Zombie’ing Westboro Baptist Church AWAY from Fort Lewis!”
She and her fiend Brooklyn Cowan went shopping for cotton balls, school glue and vampire blood, then notified the authorities.
They asked the police chief for permission to stage a counter-demonstration. They’d invited 3,000 shambling brain-seekers, they told the chief, but, zombies being zombies, expected only a couple of hundred would show up.
“They thought it was funny,” Neace said.
“They really did,” Cowan added.
Yeah, they kind of did, law enforcement officers from DuPont, Fife, Milton, Puyallup, Lakewood, Bonney Lake, Sumner and the Washington State Patrol admitted Friday.
“I love my job,” said a seriously sunglassed State Patrol officer.
The job of the day was three-fold, said DuPont Police Department spokesman George Robinson.
“We want to make sure everybody has the right to voice their message and exercise their freedom of speech,” he said. “We want to have a peaceful event where nobody gets hurt, and to make sure the traffic flows smoothly and safely.”
They worked out the logistics, welcomed more than 30 officers from neighboring jurisdictions, and made the plan clear to organizers. People could make all the noise they wanted, but they could not get in each other’s faces.
Westboro’s lawyer had requested use of the sidewalk at DuPont-Steilacoom Road and Barksdale Avenue. Westboro got the sidewalk – and a warning not to step off of it.
The owner of the adjacent private property had refused them access. Venturing beyond the police caution tape and into the road would be impeding traffic.
The zombies said they’d be happy wherever they were. The city assigned them a grassy spot by the Interstate 5 on-ramp. They respected their caution tape and invited motorcyclists, veterans, moms of serving soldiers, hot rod drivers and groups bearing the flags of the nation and its armed forces branches.
DuPont resident Louise Hull caught up with a friend, city councilwoman Kathleen Trotter.
“I posted on my Facebook that this is almost as good as watching ‘The Walking Dead.’ They’re absolutely soulless” Hull told Trotter, then clarified.
“Oh, I’m not talking about those people,” she said pointing to the growing zombie infestation.
The eight Westboro demonstrators arrived from a gig in Lacey a few minutes before noon and unpacked their signs and flag. They waved the signs, stood on the flag and left after about a half-hour.
They appeared to be saying or shouting things, but they couldn’t be heard over the noise of gravel trucks, concrete mixers and the honks of passing drivers, including many soldiers.
The zombies sang the national anthem.
They also waved signs they’d made at a work party at Galloping Gertie’s in Tillicum.
“Haters, casting the first stone since forever,” was a crowd favorite, with “If only he had a brain.”
Non-zomb David Armistead, 29, of Lacey, wore his “Trust me. A Jedi I am,” T-shirt and observed the two children, four women and two men from Westboro.
“I feel sorry for them,” he said.
Breann Jenkins, 23, of Tacoma, wandered through the crowd clutching a U.S. flag.
“My best friend’s husband died Friday the 13th in Afghanistan,” she said. “We just had a close friend give the ultimate sacrifice for us to be free.
“What they do,” Jenkins said, of Westboro church, “it doesn’t even matter.”
Luke, a young black lab mix rested his head on his paws and watched the Westboro crew pack up and leave at 12:18 p.m.
Luke’s T-shirt read “God is Love.”
Good dog. Smart dog.