Thomas Blanton: 16th Street Baptist Church bomber Dies in Prison.

The last surviving Ku Klux Klan member convicted in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four little girls has died.

Thomas E. Blanton, 82, died of natural causes Friday morning at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County. He was found at 5 a.m. having cardiac issues and taken to the infirmary at Donaldson. He went into full arrest and was pronounced dead at 6:10 a.m., according to Jefferson County Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates.

An autopsy performed found no evidence of trauma or foul play, but did reveal Blanton had significant natural disease consistent with his known documented medical history. The final autopsy results will be available in approximately four to six weeks pending toxicology and other laboratory studies.

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Blanton was one of three Klansmen eventually convicted in the Sept. 15, 1963 10:15 a.m. blast that killed 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cythnia Wesley and Carole Robertson. The girls were killed as they changed into their choir robes.

Collins’ sister, Sarah Collins Rudolph, survived the blast but lost her right eye and is known as the “fifth little girl.” Glass fragments remained in her chest, left eye and abdomen for decades after the explosion.

Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry both were arrested in 2000 on murder charges, nearly four decades after the deadly Birmingham bombing.

A parole hearing was scheduled next year for Blanton, and Rudolph and her husband planned to attend in opposition to his release, which was denied during a previous hearing.

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“She hopes that he found Jesus Christ and repented,” George Rudolph said on behalf of his wife.

Lisa McNair, the sister of Denise McNair, said she also hoped Blanton had repented and added: “I wish I could have sat down with him to find out if he had had a change of heart.”

“While serving a life sentence, Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., the last surviving 16th Street Baptist Church bomber, has passed away from natural causes. His role in the hateful act on September 15, 1963 stole the lives of four innocent girls and injured many others,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a public statement. “That was a dark day that will never be forgotten in both Alabama’s history and that of our nation. Although his passing will never fully take away the pain or restore the loss of life, I pray on behalf of the loved ones of all involved that our entire state can continue taking steps forward to create a better Alabama for future generations.

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“Let us never forget that Sunday morning in September of 1963 and the four young ladies whose lives ended far too soon, but let us continue taking steps forward to heal, do better and honor those who sacrificed everything for Alabama and our nation to be a home of opportunity for all.”

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