The expected sound of gunshots echoed through the air at a north central Texas gun range near Glen Rose. What was out of the ordinary was the target on the receiving end of the bullets – an American hero who held the distinction of being the nation’s deadliest sniper.
Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was tragically shot and killed Feb. 2 by a fellow military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the face of the loss, Texans rallied together to build a bridge of support over a sea of grief. From Midlothian to Austin, citizens waving American flags lined overpasses across I-35 as the funeral procession made its way to the cemetery where Kyle was laid to rest Feb. 12.
Belton’s Sixth Street bridge near the UMHB campus was no exception. The gathering was advertised almost completely through social media. Instrumental in organizing the gathering was John Alaniz, local business owner, former Texas House of Representatives candidate and father of two UMHB students.
“I saw that the funeral procession was going to be coming down I-35 on Facebook, and as soon as I saw that, I wanted to let everybody know that the opportunity to pay tribute would be available.”
In addition to spreading the word and inviting people to the bridge to show their support, he helped with the logistical aspects of ensuring safety.
“I did call the police department here in Belton and told them what we’d like to do and what we were expecting, and it was a thought to block off the lane to protect the pedestrians there,” Alaniz said.
He was also moved by the local law enforcements’ display of honor for the fallen soldier.
“The Belton Police Department and the fire department were just awesome in their support, and paying tribute along with us was just great.”
In addition to the smaller flags that the people gathered were holding, several firemen raised a massive one on the fire engine’s ladder.
Among those gathered was Judy Brady who heads up the Central Texas tea party based in downtown Belton. She was encouraged to see such support and patriotism on the part of the American public.
“That’s what Americans do. When one’s down, we’re all hurt. We used to do a lot of that when I was growing up,” she said.
Local radio talk show host and Army interrogator and Spanish linguist C.J. Grisham interviewed Kyle on a couple of occasions. He was also present at the bridge.
“It was very heart warming. It was kind of hard to sink in, looking back. I had to take a step back from the bridge just to see all the people all the way down,” he said. “If you looked down the highway, they were lining the highway on both sides of the bridge … people at just about every bridge crossing on I-35.”
Demonstrations of reverence were not only limited to bridges. As the procession came into view passing Belton on the southbound side, the northbound lanes of traffic slowed to a stop.
Members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, protested at Kyle’s memorial service in Arlington with signs that read, “Those who kill by the sword must die by the sword.” The same biblical quote, which much of the population believes was distasteful in this instance, was used by U.S. Sen. Ron Paul in a statement to the family.
Both incidents sparked controversy, but for the most part did not distract from the mourning of the sniper’s death.
Grisham said, “You’ve got a few detractors, but I think by and large as many people as were able to come out were able to come out, and I think the family saw what a great country this is, with all the American flags at just about every overpass. It must have been awesome just for them.”
Alaniz was also impressed with the turnout and display of respect for a serviceman.
“I was blessed to see all the people out here, and when I saw the family and the procession coming through, and I saw those in the vehicle putting their hand on their heart in appreciation, feeling the love from the people of this community, it was truly touching,” he said. “It’s something I’ll remember for a long time.
Grisham said, “I think it’s just fitting that an American hero is saluted by the American people the way that Chris Kyle has been.”