An Omaha man was arrested Saturday on suspicion of spraying tear gas into a crowd of mourners and protesters outside a funeral for a Marine killed in Afghanistan.
The protesters were from the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, run by Fred Phelps. Members of the church believe the deaths of U.S. troops are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.
Investigators think George Vogel, 62, sprayed tear gas from an industrial-size dispenser as he drove past First United Methodist Church just before 10 a.m. At least 16 people, including a police officer, were sprayed, Omaha police spokesman Michael Pecha said.
Vogel’s truck was stopped near the scene, and he was arrested. It appears that he was targeting the protesters, Pecha said. Vogel faces 16 misdemeanor charges of assault and one count each of felony assault of an officer and child neglect.
Police officers were at the church for the funeral of Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Bock. Pecha said officers were assigned to monitor a protest by the Phelps group.
Neither the protesters nor the Patriot Guard Riders, whose members try to shield mourners from such protests, was thought to be involved in the tear-gas incident.