Detroit's Belle Isle transformed into memorial for city's COVID-19 victims

All Monday, family members lined up in their cars to drive through and say goodbye to their loved ones they lost from COVID-19 over the past six months as Detroit transformed Belle Isle into a memorial to honor their lives lost. 

Starting with bells ringing across the city at 8:45 a.m., the procession began 15 minutes later with cars full of families following a hearse around the island in the Detroit River. The roads on the island were lined with pictures of Detroiters lost to te virus.

"I thought it was a really touching tribute to all, but it was heartbreaking because to see so many in person," said Margie Pannell, who was with her family to remember her mother, Rosetta Pannell.

She was struck by the number of smiling faces along the route - smiles taken from us by the coronavirus, and replaced with tears for those left behind.

"It's heartbreaking, it made me shake," Pannell said.

The drive-through memorial is a stark reminder of how hard the city was hit early on and how COVID-19 has ravaged communities of color, leaving them with little closure.

"Today is a day where we can join our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbors, our coaches  and our colleagues to give them the goodbye that they truly deserve," Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist said he's lost 23 people in his life to COVID-19, 20 of them are Detroiters.

"We all had friends who died from it, police department. the fire department, the bus system, neighbors," said Mayor MIke Duggan.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer reminded everyone that they aren't numbers - they're family members.

"These are people, men and women, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters who had dreams and plans and a story," she said.

Gov. Whitmer remembered the youngest victim, 5-year-old Skylar Herbert, who had her entire lifetime in front of her.

"It is our hope that seeing these beautiful faces on the island today, 907 that represent the more than 1,500 Detroiters snatched away by COVID-19, will wake people up to the devastating effect of the pandemic," said Detroit Arts and Culture Director Rochelle Riley. 

Riley said she was honored to honor the Detroiters, like Loretta Torrence. Her family said they were grateful for the opportunity to say goodbye on Detroit's Memorial Day.

"Very, very hard - each and every day - but we live on for her. She's watching down on us and we're keeping the faith," Steve Hister said.

The drive-through memorial will stay up through Wednesday for people to pay respects and remember those lost.