In March 2009, Libby Phelps Alvarez left the Westboro Baptist Church, saying goodbye to a life of picketing the funerals of dead soldiers and holding up controversial anti-gay signs.
Nearly four years later, the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, Sr., founder and pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, gave an emotional interview to NBC's "Today Show," in which she described the controlling life of hatred and intolerance that she's left behind.
"They think that they are the only ones who are going to heaven and if you don't go to that church you're going to hell,” Alvarez told "Today," explaining that the congregation was driven primarily by its homophobic views.
Phelps Alvarez says she recalls a particular moment when she began to feel she could no longer support the group's efforts.
“There was a point when we started praying for people to die,” Phelps Alvarez said. “I didn't actually do that but I was around when they did it.”
She's talked about that behavior before. Soon after leaving the congregation, Phelps Alvarez gave a radio interview in which she recalled being forced to "pray for people to die."
Phelps Alvarez isn't the only one to escape the tightly-knit, secretive church, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as a cult and hate group. Among former members is Nate Phelps, son of Pastor Fred Phelps Sr., who has spoken openly against some of Westboro's most high-profile demonstrations. In December, he publicly condemned its announced plans to picket the funerals of victims in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.