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- The Eagle: News

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Posted: Friday, July 6, 2012 12:00 am

More than 450 people stood side-by-side on the front lawn of Central Baptist Church in College Station Thursday, creating what quickly became known as the "Maroon Wall" in honor of fallen soldier Lt. Col. Roy Tisdale.

Many who came said they were there not only to show their appreciation and support for Tisdale, but to form a line separating those inside the church from any potential unwelcome guests.

As they often do in advance of military funerals, members of the extremist Westboro Baptist Church out of Topeka, Kan., had issued a press release indicating they'd be showing up in protest of Tisdale's funeral.

There was no sign of them throughout the day.

A majority who took part in the "Maroon Wall" were students. They were joined by families, infants and seniors from different parts of the community who appeared to have come for the same reason: showing support for Tisdale's family and gratitude for the veteran soldier's service.

While few indicated they were surprised by the outpouring of support from the Aggie community, many were impressed by the large turnout, considering the short 36 hours' notice that was given.

One of the event's organizers, 21-year-old Chris Rowan, a senior economics major from Mt. Vernon, Wash., said the event description was first posted on Facebook at about 1 a.m. Wednesday and, by noon Thursday, nearly 1,000 people had joined online.

Rowan and a few others met Wednesday to create rules for the "Maroon Wall," which included forming "one line, no circle" and remaining silent if protesters were to show up and try and engage.

"When we first set it up, we were expecting maybe a handful of people out there," he said after the services Thursday. "I'm still overwhelmed about how many people came out. There was so much love coming from this."

College Station resident Peggy Sue Hyman said her 13-year-old daughter, Lexi Durbin, showed her the event on Facebook and suggested they go.

"They gave up pool time to be here," Hyman said, referring to Durbin and the two friends she'd brought along. "It's great for them to be able to see and be part of this wonderful show of support."

Durbin said when she learned about the Westboro Baptist Church and the possibility that protesters would be coming, she wanted to be part of the line.

"I think it's horrible what they do," she said about the military funeral protestors. "When I saw the event on Facebook, I thought it was a really cool idea."

Among the sea of Aggies -most of whom were dressed in maroon -stood a lone Longhorn who drove in Thursday morning to be part of the line of support.

Jody Gibbs, a U.S. Army veteran, said he made it a point to be there when he heard that the Westboro Church was talking about coming.

Rowan said he was happy to see Gibbs there, even in his burnt orange get-up.

"This wasn't about division, it was about coming out and supporting," he said. "I'm still trying to take it all in. Thanks to everybody that came out - without them it'd be me standing out there."

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