Guardian angels: Volunteers will shield Orlando mourners from protests

As some of the first families of the Pulse shooting victims began saying final farewells, an Orlando theater company spent much of Thursday making soaring white wings that will be used to shield already grief-stricken mourners from protesters.

With the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for its stance against the LBGT community, promising to make the trip to Central Florida, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and other arts organizations launched an angel project.

The wings will be used in a 12-hour counter peace protest Saturday at Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, where services will be held for Christopher Andrew Leinonen.

“This is in support of the fallen and the families of the fallen,” said Jim Helsinger, the theater’s artistic director. “We will be using the wings as done in Laramie, Wyoming, to show our support. We will have lots of people there providing love to counter those groups there with hate.”

The wings are inspired by Romaine Patterson’s Angel Action Wings, an effort born during the Matthew Shepard case in 1999 after the 21-year-old gay student was brutally beaten to death in a hate crime. Led by a Baptist minister, a small group of protesters carrying anti-gay signs picketed Shepard’s memorial service. Patterson came up with the idea to use the wings during the court trials for Shepard’s killers as a peaceful protest. The strategy has since been used at funerals across the nation.

In Orlando, volunteers made 11 of the 10-foot wings to be worn by 10 adults and one child. The costumes are fashioned from white fabric and PVC pipe and are based on specifications provided by Angel Action.

“I don’t have money to give … but I can spread love and I can spread hope,” said Jeannie Haskett, a theater seamstress who volunteered to make wings. “I was waiting for the opportunity to use the one thing I do have, which is the skill to sew. I can sew like the wind.”

Related stories from Miami Herald