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Fred Phelps is dead

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Fred Phelps — the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization that has grown infamous for picketing high-profile funerals — died "before midnight" last night at age 84, says son Timothy Phelps.

On Sunday, Fred Phelps' estranged son Nathan revealed that Phelps was "on the edge of death" in a hospice house in Topeka, Kansas:

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Though church officials refuse to discuss their "internal church dealings" with the press, Phelps' son Mark wrote The Topeka-Capital Journal to confirm the accuracy of Nathan's statement. Without Phelps, the future of the Westboro Baptist Church remains unclear; though Nathan Phelps once speculated the church would dissolve without his father's leadership, he now believes there are several members who possess "the rhetoric and the intensity of the father," including younger brother Tim Phelps and spokesman Steve Drain. (One high-profile member it won't be: Former spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper, who would be excluded under the church's rule that "women are to be subservient to men.")

Unfortunately, the church's non-transparency means that the reason for Fred Phelps' alleged excommunication from the Westboro Baptist Church in August 2013 remains unclear — as does the possibility that the church's remaining members will picket his funeral.