02/13/2013 11:50 pm ET

Former Westboro Baptist Church Member Confronted By Sterling Wyatt's Family

On Wednesday's "Anderson Live," a former member of Westboro Baptist Church was confronted by the family of a soldier whose funeral was picketed by the controversial group.

Libby Phelps Alvarez, whose grandfather, Fred Phelps Sr., founded the group known for its anti-gay protests, left the church in March 2009. During an emotional interview with host Anderson Cooper, Phelps Alvarez explained what it was like to protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers and other prominent figures.

"I thought I was doing good. I honestly did," she said. "I thought the way to help my neighbor was to tell them that their sins were taking them to hell."

Cooper then introduced Phelps Alvarez to the parents of Sterling Wyatt, a 21-year-old Army Specialist who was killed in Afghanistan last year. Westboro protesters came to picket Wyatt's funeral in July, but were overshadowed by counter-protesters who formed a "human wall" around the church.

Wyatt's mother, Sherry, praised Phelps Alvarez for her decision to leave Westboro.

"We want to commend you for being brave enough to leave that congregation," she said.

Wyatt then detailed how she felt when she heard the group would be protesting her son's funeral.

"My first thing was, in my heart, was how could they," she said. "My son died. Our son died to ensure freedom of assembly, to ensure freedom of speech, to ensure freedom for those who are white, black, gay, straight, rich, poor."

Phelps Alvarez then gave a tearful apology to the Wyatts for the actions of her past congregation.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I thought I was doing the right thing, but I look back now and see that I was hurting people."

Later in the interview, Cooper asked Wyatt if she had anything to say to members of the group who continue to demonstrate at funerals like her son's.

"I would want to say, you are not helping us," she said. "You are not saving our souls from hell. You're not saving us from anything. All that we get from your actions is just a show of absolute hate."

What did help the Wyatt family, she said, was the outpouring of support from strangers who protected her son's memorial from Westboro's efforts.

"That is community," she said. "That is church."



A Nation United Against Westboro