Lisle church honors Sandra Bland with silent march, calls for 'thorough investigation' of her death
Robert Lega and Sandra Bland were the kind of friends who, even if they hadn't seen each other in months, could pick up right where they left off.
They grew up together in their sanctuary, a close-knit Lisle church. Bland was the good listener who "could talk to you about anything."
"She had an uncanny ability to just relate and just be there, just be a support system for all her friends," Lega said.
The 28-year-old from Glendale Heights and several hundreds of worshippers at their church walked silently Sunday in honor of Bland, who was found dead in a Waller County, Texas jail cell last Monday morning, three days after her arrest. Texas authorities who did an autopsy ruled her death a suicide by hanging.
But friends insist the "Sandy B" they knew would not have taken her life, and dispute the official version of the 28-year-old Naperville woman's death.
"She was about to start another chapter of her life. For this to happen and for them to say that she committed suicide, that's not the Sandy that we know," said Deitra Tribble, a fellow member of DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle. "The Sandy we know is a lover of God, is a lover of community, is a lover of the church, of her family and life."
Family attorney Cannon Lambert said Monday morning that Bland's family has ordered an independent autopsy and expect results in several weeks.
Bland was pulled over July 10 for failing to signal a lane change and was charged with assaulting a public servant, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. A video of her arrest, apparently captured by an onlooker and posted on YouTube, shows Bland on the ground yelling to police, "You just slammed my head into the ground."
Bland was in Texas preparing for a move from Naperville and her new job as a student ambassador at Prairie View A&M University, about 50 miles from Houston, her family has said.
The Revs. James Miller and Lana Parks Miller held hands Sunday as they led the quiet march around the grounds of DuPage AME, where Bland's single mom arrived 18 years ago, seeking "the help of the church" to raise her five daughters, Miller said. Bland was a "rambunctious" girl who easily made friends and grew into a strong-willed young woman eager to start a new job at her alma mater, Miller said.
Bland last attended services at the church June 28, and was an "enthusiastic worshipper who had no qualms of lifting her hands," he said. Her funeral services will be held at the church, Miller said, but no arrangements have been scheduled amid an investigation into her death by the FBI and the Texas Rangers.
Members of the church community wore their Sunday finest and white ribbons with a picture of a smiling Bland as they marched. The prayer walk ended with a few verses of "Amazing Grace" and Miller asking the group to sign petitions urging federal authorities to do an "independent and objective, thorough investigation."
"We weren't demonstrating. We weren't protesting. We were walking in unity with Sandy," Colette Bingham-Henderson said.
One man collapsed in the heat and was treated by paramedics. He remained alert while parishioners gave him water and fanned him until a fire truck arrived.
Those who marched described Bland as a familiar face at the church who mentored young parishioners. Tribble sought out Bland to recruit the young members for a church luncheon with about 300 women last month.
"She was very vibrant. She had a lot of wonderful ideas that she wanted to do for our Women's Day," Tribble said. "She was just a very lively individual. She had a very beautiful spirit. And it just flowed. When she smiled, she would just light up the room."
The last time Bland spoke with Lega was the over the phone, when she had not yet been offered the position at Prairie View A&M. Lega told her to "keep her head up."
"At this point, I just want answers," he said. "I just want to know what happened to my friend."