City honors 1500+ Detroiters lost to coronavirus with memorial drive on Belle Isle

Posted at 12:22 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 17:48:55-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Detroit has been one of the hardest-hit cities by COVID-19. To date, more than 1500 Detroiters have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Related: Watch: Detroit honors COVID-19 victims with memorial on Belle Isle

Because of social distancing recommendations and public health concerns, traditional funerals haven't been able to occur; most funerals have been virtual or only with very small groups, leaving so many unable to say goodbye properly.

Monday, the City of Detroit hosted a special drive-thru memorial procession to honor the Detroiters lost to COVID-19. The memorial, held on Belle Isle, allowed family members to drive by 4X4 large posters of their loved ones and say goodbye in their own way. Belle Isle was closed to public traffic for the memorial.

Ericka Murria was one of the family members who participated. Her grandmother Frances Bazel died in April from COVID-19.

“One of the hardest parts was that my grandmother, our grandmother, was in the hospital alone," she said. "For her to be alone, to pass away alone.. I think that hurt us the most.”

Bazel was 82.

“She loved the blues, and 'Aint No Sunshine When She’s Gone' actually played right as we were getting to get up to her picture," Murria said.

47-year-old Nikki Barksdale's photo also lined the procession route.

“She was just a great person, people loved to be around her," said her mother, Stephanie Barksdale.

More than 900 Detroiters' photos lined the memorial route. Families stayed inside their cars as they drove through the procession route.

For Barksdale's sister Tionna, the event was bittersweet; a beautiful symbol of a city grieving together, but also a community devastated.

“To see so many faces and to see that it hit African Americans so hard so see so many of their faces out there… it’s disturbing," Tionna told Action News.

“Today, we get a chance to mourn together," Mayor Mike Duggan said before the start of the memorial. He was joined alongside other city leaders, Gov. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.

“Fathers and mothers. Daughters and sons. Brothers and sisters, who had dreams and plans and a story. They weren’t finished yet," Whitmer said.

Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, who is from Detroit, noted he lost 23 people personally to the virus; 20 of them from Detroit.

And Cher Coner, whose mother died this spring from sepsis while waiting for a surgery, was the person who put the idea into Mayor Duggan's head for this special memorial. The Mayor recognized Coner during his remarks before the procession.

“All these people that are going through all of this, not just me, that haven’t had a chance to have a funeral. And this is just terrible it’s like a nightmare," Coner said.

Coner's mother didn't have coronavirus, but Coner said she passed as a result of the toll the virus has taken on area hospital systems. She first shared her story during a public Zoom meeting with the city.

"She had a minor situation that could have been taken care had she been able to get a procedure done, and she got sepsis and passed," Coner said.

The Ford Motor Fund sponsored the memorial drive. TCF Bank and United Way also helped the city in making the memorial a reality, by providing dinner to families after the service.

The more than 900 photos of Detroit's coronavirus victims will remain in place for the public to view Tuesday & Wednesday, and will be taken down Thursday morning.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.