Close to 2,000 people participated in an 18-mile overnight walk through Philadelphia this weekend to help prevent suicide. The event, organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, drew participants from all over the country.
Walkers started at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday evening and returned there at dawn for a candlelight closing ceremony.
As the sky above the Art Museum slowly turned a pretty powder blue, exhausted walkers wrapped in thermo foil contemplated what they had just accomplished.
Dana Godfrey was tired and sore, but she was proud to have completed the walk in memory of her cousin Lauren, who died in May. Godfrey said the walk provided an outlet for her grief.
“It was really motivating, and I think it helps us as survivors, and we feel like we’re helping prevent suicide for others who are depressed, so it’s a good thing,” she said.
The Art Museum steps were lined with luminarias, white paper bags that participants had decorated with photos and letters to loved ones. Some walkers sat by the lighted luminarias and cried, others fell sleep on the steps.
Sarah Cooper of Denver came with family members to walk in memory of her mother, Denise Cooper, who used to live in the Philadelphia area.
“We collectively decided that it’s better to be an advocate,” Cooper said. “This is a great opportunity to raise funds, and be a part of the community, and feel kinship to others who are also survivors.”
The walk raised $2 million which will go to suicide prevention research.
Brandon Marsico of Harrisburg said he walked for himself.
“At the age of 12, I started having suicidal thoughts, and at the age of 21 attempted it for the first time. A long path of therapy and medication has led me to the better side, of where I am today,” Marsico said, adding his is “living proof” of why events like this are important and serve as an inspiration to people to seek help.
The walk helps break the stigma that surrounds suicide, said Robert Gebbia who heads the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which organized the event.
“People were cheering along the route,” he said. “I don’t think I have ever been in a walk where so many people were cheering.”