Charleston, S.C. -- This is how the city of Charleston handles unspeakable tragedy.
On Sunday evening, hours after Emanuel A.M.E. Church opened its doors for the first service following the killing of nine of its congregants Wednesday, thousands in Charleston took to the streets in a show of support and solidarity.
A line of people packed Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, stretching more than two miles from the town of Mount Pleasant to the city of Charleston. Observers on the bridge, and thousands more at the base, joined hands to create a "unity chain," then held a moment of silence that lasted five minutes in honor of the fallen.
Last Wednesday, 21-year-old Dylann Roof joined a Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. Police say just an hour into the service, Roof removed a gun from a small pack he was wearing and began shooting. When the gunfire ceased, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Susie Jackson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr. were dead.
Police estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 took part in Sunday’s gathering, according to the Post and Courier. Cars drove slowly past the bridge, taking in the sight and honking horns in solidarity as people chanted “Charleston strong!”
“I’m a member of an A.M.E Church, and I just wanted to come out and show my support for my fellow brothers and sisters who lost their lives,” said 32-year-old Jawanna Goodwin.
A moment of silence is observed for those who lost their lives last Wednesday
“This is a beautiful, beautiful turnout,” Goodwin added. “I love it. My heart is so full right now.”
Strangers could be seen holding one another. Many held handmade signs promoting peace, love and unity.
“Forgiveness is key to unity,” one sign read. “We stand united,” said another.
Many in the crowd expressed gratitude through tears at the way the city had handled the senseless violence. Others handed out cold water bottles to those battling the evening’s sticky humidity.
“I think that the victims of the church shooting are really being honored in such a positive, positive way,” said Elizabeth Gearhart, 18. ”It’s such a great example for the rest of the world to see.”
Jill Johnson, 55, walked through the crowd with a copy of the Post and Courier raised above her head, with the headline: “Hate won’t win."
Sunday was Johnson’s birthday. She shared it with Hurd, who would have also turned 55. Johnson said there was no better way to spend her birthday than to honor Hurd and the other eight who were killed.
“Something said I needed to be here,” Johnson said. “These are all my people. I love these people. And I don’t think I have another tear left -- thank goodness. I cried for three days. This was just a part of the healing.”
Every word in the English language fall short of describing what the people of Charleston did tonight. On Thursday we were divided. We were without hope. We were in agony and pain. Our people leaned on each other. We asked one another to heal us; heal our souls for they have been torn apart. We came together- and not just us. People from Georgia; people from Florida; people from hundreds of miles away- They came to help. Our other states held vigils and rang church bells to honor the Emanuel9. Citizens in counties on the other side of the world- Syria, Japan, Portugal, Italy, South Korea- were commenting on every online post they could find to tell those people they were loved. With this help, we could stand again. We became 'the example of love that conquers evil'. Tonight we gathered together to form a unity chain, a bridge for peace, on the Ravanel Bridge. 3,000 were estimated to arrive and complete the link by sunset, yet 15,000 people stood united together at the bases of the bridge, ready for the journey. There were people as far as the eye could see cheering, clapping, laughing and singing as they walked. Our hometown heroes paved the way and kept us safe from passing cars, who laid on their horns to show support as they went by. There was nothing like it. I am proud of this community and honored to call it home for we have defined what it means to be strong. Charleston strong. #CooperRiverBridge #RavenelBridge #CharlestonStrong #iamAME #CharlestonShooting #Charleston #BridgeToPeace #chslove #OneLove #UnityChain
— Brad Taylor (@bradtaylorbooks) June 22, 2015
US flag at charleston unity walk pic.twitter.com/oOk9ChKnxo
— Jeff Hartsell (@Jeff_fromthePC) June 22, 2015
— TheCincyWayfarer (@MrsMigrator) June 22, 2015