Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., that became famous for its controversial protests at funerals, is ill and in hospice care, family members and church officials confirmed today.
Phelps' estranged son, Nathan, first announced his father's condition Saturday night.
Fred Phelps is "on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka," Nathan Phelps wrote in a statement posted to his Facebook page Saturday night. The announcement quickly drew hundreds of comments.
Nathan Phelps also said his father had been excommunicated from the church, and that those who are in control of Westboro Baptist are preventing Phelps' relatives who left the church from seeing the ailing pastor.
Westboro Baptist's followers became infamous for staging protests at events including the funerals of U.S. service personnel, at which they claim the deaths are retribution for America's tolerance of homosexuality.
A spokesman for Westboro Baptist Church would not confirm that Phelps had been removed from the church he founded.
"We don't owe any talk to you about that," Steve Drain told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "We don't discuss our internal church dealings with anybody. It's only because of his notoriety that you are asking."
While Drain confirmed that Phelps recently went into hospice care, he said that the controversial pastor is not close to death.
In an email to the newspaper, Nathan Phelps said that his father had also been removed from the space above the church where he had lived for years. He was moved "to another house where he could be watched for fear of him hurting himself," the Capital-Journal says, citing the email.
The newspaper said it received a separate email today from Phelps' brother, Mark, that confirmed Nathan Phelps' account of their father's excommunication and declining health.
According to his website, Nathan Phelps currently lives in Canada. His site identifies him as an author who frequently speaks about gay rights, child abuse, and religion.
In his statement posted last night, he acknowledged feeling a range of emotions at the news of his father's failing health, from sadness to anger.
Last year, Fred Phelps' granddaughters Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper made headlines as they described how they left the church. They traveled to meet with groups they had attacked, they said, in an effort to make amends.
Megan, who's now 28, told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail:
"I'm at a complete loss. But I do know that I want to do good, to have empathy. Even though we intended to do good [with the picketing], we hurt a lot of people."
Here is Nathan Phelps' statement in full:
"I've learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the 'God Hates Fags' Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the 'church' back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.
"I'm not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.
"I feel sad for all the hurt he's caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I'm bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes."
As an international armada of planes, ships and helicopters continues to comb the Indian Ocean for any sign of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, now missing for more than a week, Interpol confirms that two passengers aboard that flight were traveling on stolen passports.
Aviation experts say the incident highlights a major security gap at many airports: It is simply too easy to board a flight using someone else's photo ID.
A new study looked in to the reliability of facial recognition with photos. Researchers found that the fewer fake IDs people see, the harder it is to spot them when the do come along — and multiple traps can cloud screeners' judgment.
The study, conducted by Megan Papesh of Louisiana State University and Stephen Goldinger of Arizona State University, was published in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics in February.
Find The Fake
The study authors showed subjects a set of photos of people they had never met. The set was made up of pairs: One photo was a photo ID taken months or even years earlier, the other was a candid contemporary shot. In some cases, the photos were of two different people — one standing in as a "fake ID." Researchers asked subjects to pick out the pairs that were not of the same people.
When the rate of fakes was high — that is, when half of the photo IDs didn't match their user — those surveyed were wrong 20 percent of the time. But with fewer fakes — more closely resembling a real-world situation like an airport security line — the number of errors skyrocketed. Even when people were given multiple opportunities to detect their errors, they failed to pick out the fake nearly half the time.
Researcher Megan Papesh says one reason we're so bad at picking out fake IDs is that people change the way they look all the time — their hair, weight, whether they wear glasses. "Myriad changes occur, and that makes people willing to accept a lot of changes," she says.
Learning From Bouncers
One lesson from this study may be that security agents, who rarely see fake IDs, can learn something from bouncers at bars, who see many more fakes.
"A lot of my research assistants have told me that bouncers at clubs are really good at spotting fake IDs, despite the motivation to let people in and sell alcohol to them, because they encounter so many of them," says Papesh. "We're interested in providing training to individuals who are tasked with doing this in more security contexts with those bursts of fake IDs, kind of like they would get if they were bouncers at a club."
Another possible way to make the system more reliable, Papesh says, would be to take better pictures in the first place. For example, in passport photos people are asked to put long hair behind their ears and take off glasses. Most states do not require this for driver's license photos. Another possibility would be requiring multiple photos of the same person for a single ID. Papesh says previous research has suggested that having multiple photos, perhaps from multiple angles, can help screeners identify fakes.
Ultimately, though, are photo IDs just a bad way to identify people?
"Unfortunately, it's simultaneously the best and the worst way that we have," says Papesh. Reliable computer face-recognition is still a long way away, and other technologies are more invasive.
"Barring anything much more invasive like retinal scans or thumbprint ID," she says, "face matching is really the best way to go without being too terribly invasive."
As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.
You probably don't know the name June Ambrose, but you may have seen her work.
The designer and celebrity stylist is the one who got Puff Daddy to wear a shiny suit and put Nas in a pink suit and white shoes in the '90s.
Today she's a stylist to stars like Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige, but she got her start working in costume design for music videos.
Her break came when she was called in to work on Missy Elliott's hit "The Rain."
She was called in for a meeting with Missy and her management team to discuss the Supa Dupa Fly album project.
"The question was posed to me: 'How are you, June Ambrose, gonna sell this young lady to mainstream America?' " Ambrose says. "She was a full-figured girl and at the time it was all about racy, provocative females in music."
Ambrose was inspired by Missy's lyrical content: "It was almost an animated racy. I said, 'Missy Elliott will be my modern-day cartoon character.' "
On the video for the album's first single, "The Rain," music video director Hype Williams presented Ambrose with a treatment concept that involved Missy Elliott being blown up like a Michelin man in the tire commercials. But Ambrose saw it very differently.
Instead, Ambrose designed a blowup suit finished with black patent leather on the outside and tire inner tube on the inside.
"The contraption was very small deflated, but once you blew it up, it was the size of maybe a 900 pound man," she says.
They had to take Missy Elliott to a gas station to inflate the suit. When they walked back to the studio where they were filming, Ambrose noticed that the suit had a small leak and was slowly deflating.
"So, now I'm like, 'Oh God, what am I gonna do?' " Ambrose recalls. "Everyone was screaming, 'Get art department, let's figure this out!"
Her solution? A bicycle pump. Ambrose stood behind the monstrous suit pumping during every take. And it turns out, the leak made it even more visually intriguing.
"The slight leak actually made the suit a lot more dynamic than I could have ever imagined," Ambrose says. "And that crazy luck, I gotta tell you, probably changed my life."
Ambrose went on to design for every music video in Missy Elliott's career. She's worked on more than 150 videos.
"These outrageous music video moments, because they were so highly recognized and celebrated, they caught on," she says. "We never came from behind the curtains, we were the wizards. But people always wanna seek out whose creating magic."