Organizers says 20,000 joined Bridge to Peace march on Ravenel Bridge

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Thousands of people joined members of the Emanuel AME Church and Mount Pleasant Police Chief Carl Ritchie Sunday night in a unity march to the top of the Ravenel Bridge dubbed the Bridge to Peace.

Organizers estimate there were as many as 20,000 people who joined in the march in honor of the nine people who were killed inside the church last week. An estimate from police officials are lower, at 10 to 15 thousand.

People were high-fiving, hugging and singing as they walked up the bridge to create a unity chain. The energy only seized during a 9-minute moment of silence for the victims.

Early estimates ranged between 10,000 to 20,000 people, who came from as far as Charlotte, Memphis and Garden City. The crowd was so large not everyone made it onto the bridge.

Ida Fresselli, a local woman, had hopes of making it for the duration of the walk -- but also had serious doubts she could make it. Standing at the foot of the bridge before the march, Fresselli said she came alone to the march because she was worried she would slow down her friends and possibly fail to make the summit.

But Fresselli was among those who reached the top of the bridge in time for the moments of silence.

"I never thought I would make it," she said, a big smile on her face. "I did it!"

Monique Williams, who is from Memphis but spent the weekend vacationing in Myrtle Beach, said she was starting to head home before a friend told her she shouldn't miss the Bridge to Peace event.

So she and her daughter, Bree, and cousin Gabby made the drive to Charleston late Sunday morning.

"We just wanted to be part of this historic event," she said, relating a story of meeting a young girl who regularly visited the library where 54-year-old Cynthia Hurd worked before she was killed in Wednesday's church shooting.

To commemorate their attendance, they took selfies at the base of the bridge.

A few yards and several hundred feet away, a Clover, South Carolina, family says they made the drive to Charleston to take part in the unity walk to show their support.

"We wanted to represent our church and let Charleston know we stand with them," said Lois.

"It's a beautiful community you have here," her husband added.

The group was led by police chief Ritchie, Jay Johnson, the leader of the "Official Black Lives Matter" group, and members of the victims' families.

Before the march started, Johnson spoke, telling the crowd it was time for Black Lives Matter to end and a new group to be born -- All Lives Matter. He said, during the return march from the crest of the bridge, that he had been wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt but took it off and discarded it because that effort had grown to something larger.

As the lead group made their way through the thousands of people still making their way up the bridge, Johnson repeatedly told them that the city was making history.

Johnson was one of the organizers of the unity rally in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. He said after Sunday night's even that Baltimore drew 17,000 people, but Charleston delivered 20,000 or more.

Ritchie was energized as he led the group to the top of the bridge. At one point he looked at Johnson, smiling, and said: "And we wondered if we could get 200 people out here."

Ritchie said the energy of the group gave him such a boost he couldn't help but charge up the bridge.

"You did it! You made history, Charleston," Johnson said repeatedly as he encountered people.

There were hugs. There were high-fives. There were cheers. On the three operational lanes of traffic running parallel to the walkway, there were people stopping to take photos and honk their horns in support.

In the harbor below, dozens of boats lined up on the northbound side of the bridge, blowing their horns as the march moved to the peak.

People said the bridge will always be remembered for this event.

"I am super proud of my city tonight," one woman said.

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