Thousands of people came together atop Charleston's largest bridge on Sunday evening to honor the nine victims gunned down last week at Emanuel AME Church.
Police estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 people from near and far gathered on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, which spans the Cooper River and connects the city of Charleston to the suburb of Mount Pleasant, for the Bridge to Peace Unity Chain. Event organizers had expected about 3,000 people.
Marchers started at both ends of the bridge and met in the middle, cheering and embracing while singing "This Little Light of Mine." They also observed nine minutes of silence in honor of the nine church parishioners allegedly killed by Dylann Roof last Wednesday.
Many participants were Charleston area residents, but others, such as comedian and South Carolina native Stephen Colbert, came from hundreds of miles away to pay tribute.
“I can’t even process it; I feel like I’m in a movie,” Dorsey Fairbairn, an organizer of the walk, told the Charleston Post & Courier. “The people raised in Charleston are not raised knowing hate – they’re raised in love, and that was obvious tonight. I hope the families feel the honor and the love from this community."
Fairbairn said the idea for the Bridge to Peace Unity Chain was born out of concern for similar tragedies across the country, especially as she is a mother.
“I just felt compelled to do something,” she said. “I just feel like this is happening too much in our country and this cannot be the norm.”
Participants spanned all races and ages. One local resident, Khalil Santos, walked with his young son atop his shoulders. He told the Charleston Post & Courier that he wanted his children to understand the significance of the march and what it represents.
"I want them to understand that hate is not the way to live," Santos said. "I want them to have brighter futures and I want them to see the unity, no matter race or color. We are still united.”
Charleston resident Lauren Bush told the Post & Courier she hoped the event would inspire faith in humanity.
“It’s going to take a lot more than just holding hands across a bridge, but to see this response, it’s a good start,” Bush said. “We will rise above the hate.”