Candles were lit and mini American flags were swaying in the wind, as hundreds of residents joined local officials on the Salem Common to unite for Boston in the “Salem Stands with Boston ‘Last Mile’ Run and Candlelight Walk."
The Thursday night event comes in light of the tragic bombings that rocked the Boston Marathon on Monday. The attacks killed three people and injured over 170 others.
“It’s really amazing,” said Mayor Kimerley Driscoll. “I think it just speaks to the fact that people feel the need to come together, heal together, when there’s such a senseless tragedy and you feel helpless. Coming together and healing together is one way to start to overcome it. I think that’s what we saw today.”
In front of the Salem Common gazebo, Salem’s Paul Madore Chorale led the crowd in singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America," both of which were followed by a loud eruption of applause.
Father John Sheridan of Salem’s St. James Church, Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad of the North Shore, and Salem resident and Boston Marathon participant John Young also took part in a brief speaking program prior to the candlelight walk.
Those that ran the race themselves, or had friends and family members who participated were there to show support and stand with Boston as one, said Kara Sher, 41, of Danvers.
Sher was overcome with tears as she spoke of her friend who was unable to finish the race due to the tragic bombings.
“It’s overwhelming to be here,” Sher said. “It’s such a great event. I have a friend who didn’t finish. She was OK, so it meant a lot for me to be here for her. That one event has changed so many lives in good ways and in really bad ways. We’re all from Boston. It’s Boston.”
Dawn Amico, 42, also of Danvers, was equally as overwhelmed being among those showing immense support for the wounded and those less fortunate in the outcome of events.
Despite city and town borders, Amico said, “everybody is Boston.”
“I didn’t expect there to be this kind of outpouring,” Amico said. “It’s a lot of people. I think everyone around this area, North Shore, South Shore, if you live in this radius of less than 20 miles you feel like you are Boston.”
Decked out in Red Sox gear, attendees wrote heartfelt notes on a large banner donated by Gorilla Printing, which read "Salem Stands with Boston." The banner will be given to Mayor Thomas Menino and the city of Boston.
In addition, the Salem Veterans Council donated and passed out hundreds of small American flags to participants.
Salem resident Kevin Maher, 55, stuck one of those American flags in the back of his hat, while his wife, Joyce, also 55, held tight to the leash of their pug Honeybun, who was doning a fitted Red Sox shirt.
The couple was on their way back from the Red Sox game on Monday and were confused when they found out the T was shut down. They finally made it to the Boylston area, just after the bombs were detonated.
"All of a sudden we saw cop cars come out everywhere," Kevin said. "Ambulances came out of everywhere. Our phones were shut off, we couldn't make a call. Cab drivers were locking their doors. Bus drivers were locking their doors. Nobody was taking anyone anywhere. It was like you were on an island with millions of people around."
After experiencing the aftermath of the terrifying event, Joyce said she felt compelled to come down to the Salem Common Thursday night.
"We're uniting," Joyce said. "It's just the spirit of the North Shore. And the 'do-badders;' you don't scare us."
John Young, 47, moved to Salem about seven years ago and was less than a mile from the finish line when he was told to stop.
He said he was mostly concerned about his wife Sue and his 10-year-old son Owen who were waiting for him at the finish line. Luckily, he said, they were safe.
Being on the Common with his fellow residents on Thursday night was a reminder to him that people can be good.
"It renews my faith in human spirit," Young said. "You get knocked down. The only time you're a quitter is if you stay down. What people have shown tonight is that we're not going to stay down and we're going to get up and do it again next year. If what people did was try to stop us, they didn't succeed."
Moving forward from this life-altering event will be difficult, and a long hall, Mayor Driscoll said, but will be possible with unity and the strength and support of the community.
"I think we want to be as supportive as we can, to obviously the victims' families, anyone who was injured, to go that extra mile to be helpful," Driscoll said. "While we're all aware of what's going on, for some families it's going to be a really long haul. It's so personal when something like this happens and I think the more we can show strong resolve and resiliency together as a community, I think that's good for everyone."