U.K. Woman Was Allegedly Killed by Cop on Walk Home, and Outrage Erupts After Police Break Up Vigil
The abduction and killing of Sarah Everard, 33, has ignited a movement to make women feel safer on the streets
A weekend clash between police and protesters honoring a woman who was found dead after her disappearance on a walk through London has spotlighted the issue of women's safety, as a police officer has been accused of her murder.
The victim, 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard, disappeared March 3 while walking home. On Friday, police confirmed that remains found more than 50 miles from where she'd last been seen belonged to Everard, according to CNN.
On Saturday, a "serving police constable," Wayne Couzens, 48, appeared in Westminster Magistrates Court and was charged with Everard's kidnap and murder.
It was not immediately clear if Couzens has commented on the charges or retained an attorney to comment on his behalf.
Her death and the search for a suspect prompted many women to share stories about fearing for themselves in public — and on Saturday, after police failed to head off a vigil for the victim, images of officers grabbing women at the event only served to amplify their call for an end to male violence after police had put the onus on women to protect themselves.
Among those participating in the national outcry over Everard's death was Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, 39, who stopped Saturday and left flowers by the memorial in Clapham Common, an area near Everard's home in Brixton, where she was seen walking before her disappearance.
"She wanted to pay her respects to Sarah and her family," a royal source tells PEOPLE. "She remembers what it felt like to walk around London at night."
Rallied by a group that dubbed itself Reclaim These Streets, the vigil Saturday sought to honor Everard while also objecting to police instructions that women seeking safety should just stay home, reports The New York Times.
"The police are trying to silence us, the police are trying to repress us," hundreds of protesters said in unison, repeating the words of a speaker at the vigil's center, according to the Times. "The police said we can't have a vigil to remember Sarah Everard. The police have the nerve to threaten us. The police have the nerve to intimidate us."
"We. Say. No," the protesters chanted.
Authorities had cited England's lockdown amid COVID-19 concerns to discourage Saturday's event. "We know vigils are being organised this weekend following the tragic death of Sarah Everard," said a post on the Twitter page of London's Metropolitan Police. "We remain in a health crisis & we would urge people to not attend a large public gathering."
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In a related statement ahead of the event, police Commander Catherine Roper said: "Since Sarah's disappearance, we have shared Londoners anguish, shock and sadness at the truly awful circumstances of her disappearance and death. ... We take no joy in this event being cancelled, but it is the right thing to do given the real and present threat of COVID-19."
But hundreds showed up anyway, reports The Washington Post. And when they did, the resulting images of officers attempting to control the crowd — including one photo of a woman pinned to the ground and handcuffed by male officers — only fanned the movement's outrage.
With police attempting to disperse the gathering, those in the crowd chanted, "Hey, mister, get your hands off my sister!," reports the Times. Others called out: "Arrest your own!" and "Police, go home!"
As the search for Everard was underway, her family issued a statement through police that said: "Sarah was bright and beautiful -- a wonderful daughter and sister. She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable. She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humour."
"She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all," it continued. "We are very proud of her and she brought so much joy to our lives."
PEOPLE was unable to immediately reach Everard's family.