A Pennsylvania school district will be moving its elementary students for the day on Wednesday due to a nearby church's decision to bless couples carrying AR-15 rifles.
The Wallenpaupack Area School District will move students out of Wallenpaupack South Elementary School in Newfoundland due to its proximity to the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary church, where couples will be blessed alongside their semi-automatic rifles.
The district in the Poconos sent letters to parents on Friday notifying them that students would attend class at another elementary school further from the church on Wednesday. Students who miss school that day will be marked as excused. The move will impact about 260 students.
Both the Pennsylvania State Police and the Wayne County Sheriff's Office will have a presence at the school to protect the maintenance and support staff remaining behind, assistant superintendent Keith Gunuskey said. An extra school resource officer will also be deployed at the school. No other schools in the district, which spans parts of Wayne and Pike counties, are moving students.
Gunuskey said parents were rattled by the news of the gathering, particularly since three years ago the district was forced to shutter classrooms during the manhunt for Eric Frein, who gunned down two state troopers outside their Pike County barracks in 2014, killing 38-year-old Corporal Bryon K. Dickson.
"It has definitely had put some parents on edge," Gunuskey said of the church's ceremony. "For us, there are no templates to follow, so it does cause some anxiousness within the community, which is understandable."
The church, which strongly supports the Second Amendment, has said it planned the Feb. 28 ceremony months ago, well before this month's massacre in a Florida high school that left 17 people dead. Authorities say the alleged Parkland gunman used an AR-15 during the attack, a gun the church believes symbolizes the "rod of iron" mentioned in the Bible's apocalyptic book of Revelation.
The church's leader, Rev. Sean Moon, is the son of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who proclaimed himself as a messiah and founded the Unification Church, which has been referred to as a cult by several former members.
"If unable to purchase and legally transport such a 'rod of iron' because of laws barring the purchase of such weapons, or other reasons, couples are invited to purchase a $700 gift certificate from a gun store, as evidence of their intent to purchase a 'rod of iron' in the future," the church says on its website.
The ceremony follows a "President Trump Thank You Dinner" the church organized last Saturday night in nearby Matamoras, Pa. The dinner, a fundraiser for the group Gun Owners of America, was co-sponsored by Kahr Arms, a guns manufacturer based in Greeley, Pa., and founded by Moon's brother, Justin Moon.
Last week, Pennsylvania State Police trooper Mark Keyes told the Associated Press that there were no plans to send any troopers to the event, since the church isn't breaking any laws.
"It's something I would consider keeping my child home," parent Liz Zoccola told WNEP-TV last week. "It's scary."