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MISSOULA — Despite sleet and rain, thunder and lightning, more than 100 people lined the Higgins Avenue Bridge on Wednesday evening to toss flowers into the icy waters of the Clark Fork River as a gesture of support for victims of sexual violence.

The event, called 1,000 Flowers, aimed to provide “recognition of all the brave women who step forward as victims of sexual assault,” according to its Facebook page.

Although the page made reference to – and the event collected messages of support for – “the woman who just recently endured a very public trial here in Missoula,” organizers said the event in no way was a reflection on the verdict in the trial.

In that trial, which ended last week, University of Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson was acquitted of raping a fellow UM student as the two watched a movie at her house.

“It’s not really about the verdict in the case,” said Erin Lambert Site, one of the organizers of 1,000 Flowers. “It’s more the larger issue of people coming forward (to report sexual assault). It’s so difficult and scary and people can get a lot of negative feedback. We really feel like people shouldn’t be discouraged from speaking out if they feel they have been violated.”

Likewise, others in the growing crowd huddled under the shelter of the Wilma Theatre overhang spoke of the courage it takes to report assaults.

“It’s because of all of the hate and really hurtful things that are said” when women report sexual assault, said Kia Liszak. “It’s a complex issue, with a complexity of emotion. We owe it to victims everywhere to respond in a thoughtful and respectful way.”

Indeed, the notice of the event urged participants to “please bring your love of women and their courage – no hate or anger.”

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The event was one response to the trial. A Facebook page supporting Johnson, created Tuesday and with 111 “likes” by Wednesday evening, was another.

“Jordan Johnson was falsely accused and acquitted of rape. He is the victim of a U.S. Department of Justice probe that ignored facts and evidence,” that page says.

A “Janie Doe” Facebook page created March 1 – the day Johnson was acquitted – also specifically references the trial and its aftermath. “People, fueled by Griz Nation sports fanaticism, are violently angry at the woman called ‘Jane Doe’ – and this has damning implications for Missoula,” according to the page, which features photos of both men and women holding signs saying “We are all Jane Doe.”

“Clearly there’s work to be done,” said Missoula City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, who attended the 1,000 Flowers event. “This is about making sure women feel safe in our community.”

On Wednesday evening, the crowd in front of the Wilma waited for the rain to stop. It rained harder. So eventually everyone made their way onto the bridge, in a sea of hooded parkas and colorful umbrellas, clutching single blossoms or entire bouquets.

The Bitterroot Flower Shop offered to donate 50 percent of the proceeds from flowers purchased there for the event to YWCA Missoula, which among other things helps victims of sexual and domestic violence. One woman said that about 20 minutes before the event, the store was jam-packed.

The crowd lined the bridge from riverbank to riverbank. People tossed their blossoms over the railing, briefly creating a kaleidoscope of color atop the dark waters. Then the river swept them away, and everyone made their way home in the rain.

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