By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — It was a powerful image: More than 1,000 people walking around the Common just after dusk, carrying American flags and flickering candles.
Among the crowd were people of all ages, walkers with dogs and parents pushing children in strollers. Many wore Boston Marathon jackets or jerseys and hats from their favorite Boston sports teams. Friends and families chatted as they walked.
Last night’s gathering on the Salem Common was organized to remember and honor those affected by the explosions that went off near the Boston Marathon finish line Monday afternoon.
Ana Morais, who recently moved to Salem, said she was moved by the sight of the walkers circling the Common.
“(This) show of force is what we need,” said Morais, who clutched a flag and a candle as she watched. “It’s very emotional.”
Last night’s event began with a “last mile” run around the Common, a symbolic run of the final mile that many marathoners weren’t able to complete on Monday. The crowd gathered at the Common gazebo for a brief speaking program, and the evening concluded with the candlelight walk.
Salem resident Mike Kapnis wore a Bruins hat and walked with a large American flag flying on a hockey stick.
Coming to last night’s gathering was “automatic,” he said.
“Just coming together, praying for everyone, I think it’s great. A great tribune,” Kapnis said.
Salem’s Paul Madore Chorale kicked off the speaking program by leading the national anthem and “God Bless America.”
“Here in Salem, we needed to do something (after Monday’s events),” Mayor Kim Driscoll said. “I felt like the first big step was coming together. Coming together is a way to stand for Boston.”
Salem resident John Young was less than a mile from the finish line on Monday when the marathon was abruptly halted by the explosions. Young and a friend had hoped to be the first dwarfs on record to run a Boston Marathon.
“Don’t be sorry I didn’t finish. Be happy I started,” Young told the crowd last night. “... My goal was just to let people know you can do anything you want to do, whatever body you have. ... My spirit will not be dampened, and I hope yours won’t either.”
Among the more than 100 injured by Monday’s explosions were a Salem father and son, Stephen and Leo Woolfenden, who were at the marathon to watch their wife and mother, Amber Woolfenden, run the marathon.
Amber Woolfenden is a member of Salem’s Wicked Running Club. Last night, club member Julie Arrison read a statement from the Woolfendens, thanking the community and the “thousands of friends and strangers” that have provided them care and support since Monday.
Last night’s run/walk was organized by Driscoll, Salem State University, Parents United of Salem, the Salem YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem, the Salem Chamber of Commerce, Salem’s No Place for Hate Committee, the Wicked Running Club, the No Rest for the Wicked Weekly 5K run and the North Shore Road Race Guide.
Participants signed a banner that read “Salem Stands With Boston,” which will be given to Boston Mayor Tom Menino as a gift to the city. The banner was covered, end-to-end, with signatures.
Chabad of the North Shore put up a board where people could attach pledges to do a good deed or random act of kindness. Red Cross volunteers were on hand to offer counseling and support to those who needed it.
“A piece of each of us was taken on Monday. ... We are gathered here tonight to act as beacons of light,” Rabbi Yossi Lipsker told the crowd. “Next year’s Boston Marathon will become America’s marathon. It will be freedom’s marathon.”
Sarah Smith wore a Red Sox hat and American flag earrings and held a sign she made bearing the phrase “Boston Strong.”
“When something like this happens, you need to be around people to share it with,” said Smith, a Framingham resident. “I felt like being here tonight made sense. It was the right thing to do.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.