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'We Are Celebrating a Hero': Mourners Gather for Sandra Bland’s Funeral

With investigations into Bland’s death in a Texas jail cell still ongoing, friends and family gathered at a church in Illinois to pay their last respects.

by Tessa Stuart
Jul 25 2015, 6:00pm

Photo by Christian K. Lee/AP

Mourners gathered at the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Lisle, Illinois, on Saturday to celebrate the life of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who died in a Texas jail cell three days after she was arrested during a routine traffic stop. Bland grew up in Naperville, Illinois, and she attended services and sang in the choir at DuPage AME.

Inside a white casket engraved with the words "RIP Sandra Bland AKA 'Sandy,'" Bland was dressed in white suit, according to the Chicago Sun Times. A single rose rested on top of her body. Many of the bereaved wore white, along with pins with Bland's picture and the words "SandySpeaks"; others wore t-shirts with the words "Unite not incite" emblazoned across the back.

"We are not celebrating a martyr or victim. We are celebrating a hero," the pastor reportedly told friends and family gathered in the church on Saturday. She encouraged attendees who came to pay their last respects to Bland, including Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, to "go online and shut down the Justice Department's website asking for a federal investigation into her death."

Bland was arrested on July 10 after she was pulled over for not signaling before changing lanes. In a dashboard camera footage released last week, Bland can be heard insisting to state trooper Brian Encinia that she was only attempting to pull out of his way.

Related: Was Sandra Bland Dashcam Arrest Video Edited Before Release?

Dashcam footage of the traffic stop and arrest of Sandra Bland distributed by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The incident escalated after the officer requested that Bland extinguish her cigarette. She maintained that because was smoking inside her own car she didn't have to comply. Encinia can later be seen on the video advising her that he has a taser, and yelling, "I will light you up." Encinia has since been placed on administrative leave.

Bland was arrested and booked into the Waller County Jail. Three days later, her body was found inside her jail cell hanged with a plastic trash can liner. 

Related: Sandra Bland 'Previously Attempted Suicide,' Jail Documents Littered With Discrepancies Say

According to Alexandria Pyle, a woman who was placed in an adjacent cell, Bland was distraught that a friend who promised her she would post her bail never arrived.

Her family and friends say she was excited about a new job and would not have taken her own life. The Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating Bland's death. 

Follow Tessa Stuart on Twitter: @tessastuart