When tragedy struck 2,600 miles from her Port Angeles, Wash., home, Leslie Robertson wanted to help.
Robertson, founder of Revitalize Port Angeles, saw several posts from people on her Facebook group saying they wanted to do something nice for Chattanooga after a shooter killed four Marines and a naval officer last week.
The two cities were in a fierce competition earlier this summer as Outside Magazine's two finalists for the "Best Town Ever" competition, with Chattanooga narrowly edging the tiny Pacific Coast town.
That's when the idea struck Robertson: Port Angeles residents could sign a giant banner and write messages of condolence to the city of Chattanooga.
"We really wanted to think of something personal," she said of why she chose a banner. "It's like one giant sympathy card."
She asked the mayor and city council what they thought of the idea. They loved it, and gave her permission to carry out the plan. Now, residents in Port Angeles have until Friday to sign the banner outside the city manager's office. After that, the banners will be mailed to Chattanooga.
"It has wildly exceeded my expectations," Robertson said of how many people have signed the banner so far. Three 8-foot-by-3-foot banners already have been filled up, and she has two more in her car ready to go.
Retired firefighter Jay Cline sent along a picture of the fire crew posed with the banner.
"We just wanted to show that Chattanooga isn't alone in this, Port Angeles had its brush in terrorism too," Cline wrote in an email. The Peninsula Daily News website reported that in 1999, an Al-Qaida agent named Ahmed Ressam crossed from Victoria, B.C. into Port Angeles and was detained by Customs agents. Authorities later said he was carrying explosives and bound for Los Angeles International Airport, according to the newspaper account.
Port Angeles is a city of 19,000 in northwestern Washington. Chattanooga won the competition with 67,432 votes — 52 percent — to Port Angeles' 62,130. It was the second time Chattanooga has won the honor.
Robertson said during the voting process there was some negativity in the spirit of competition. But after voting was complete, people from both towns have expressed interest in visiting each other's towns, she said.
"It's almost like we're sister cities," Robertson said.
Contact staff writer Evan Hoopfer at email@example.com or on twitter @EvanHoopfer or 423-757-6731.