LOS ANGELES -- Michael Jackson fans came from near and far Tuesday to say last goodbyes to their pop music hero, some traveling from across the U.S. and Europe for his public memorial in Los Angeles.
Near the service site in downtown's Staples Center, vendors sold Jackson memorabilia such as T-shirts, collages, buttons and bouquets of snapdragons and dahlias.
"His music will live forever. That's why I'm here today. It's like closure. I'm a person who believes in miracles, and I'm witnessing one today," said Jenee Huitt of Los Angeles, referring to her gold wristband allowing her to be among the lucky fans to attend the memorial service.
Huitt, an etiquette teacher, said she met the Jackson 5 as a girl in the early 1970s.
"Diana Ross brought the Jacksons in to this event, introduced them and said, 'They're going to be stars,'" Huitt said.
Crowds were tiny compared to those expected by police, who had issued statements leading up to the service asking people without tickets to stay away.
Deputy Police Chief Sergio Diaz, operations chief for the event, said authorities had projected a crowd of 250,000 or more. Besides reporters and those with tickets to the memorial service, the crowd around the Staples Center perimeter numbered only about 1,000, he said.
"We asked people not to come out and just be on the street and spectate from a distance, and it seems to have worked," Diaz said.
Police had based their projection of 250,000 people on turnouts for the funerals of Princess Diana and Elvis Presley, along with the recent Los Angeles Lakers NBA championship parade, Diaz said.
Fans drove or flew in from northern California, Colorado and as far away as Arkansas, Delaware and England, some just to be outside the event. Some wore trademark Jackson clothing, including sequined white socks and red leather jackets reminiscent of those the singer wore in his music videos.
The scene was reminiscent of one of Hollywood's many awards shows, which draw vendors and celebrity gawkers. Police helicopters flew overhead, and officers patrolled on foot and bicycle. The crowds were orderly.
Fans carried signs such as "Michael Jackson Lives." One turned himself into a walking music video, strapping a flat-screen TV to his back that played Jackson numbers.
Claudia Hernandez, 29, said she loved Jackson's music as a girl growing up in Mexico. Now a day-care teaching assistant in Los Angeles, Hernandez said she has cried watching TV coverage of his death.
"I'm trying to hold in my emotions," said Hernandez, wearing a wristband to allow her admittance to the service and holding a framed photograph of Jackson. "I know right now he's teaching the angels to dance."
Half a dozen protesters stood among fans, condemning Jackson over his child-molestation charges, holding signs that read, "Jacko in Hell," "You're Going to Hell" and "Mourn for Your Sins."
But Jackson's devotees far outnumbered his critics. Mishelle Van, 37, drove with her cousin from Hesperia, Calif., arriving in Los Angeles at 1 a.m. They spent the early morning hours with other Jackson fans.
"They're touching us and saying, can you bring the love in for us?" said Van, who was among those with a wristband for the service.
Melvin Price, 43, flew in from England on Saturday, even before he knew he had won a ticket to the Jackson memorial.
"I wanted to pay my last respects to Michael Jackson," said Price, dressed in a red leather jacket. "I've been a fan of his for 35 years."
Beverly J. Ellis, 46, said she drove from Holly Springs, Ark., just to be there even though she could not get in. She planned to go to Jackson's Neverland ranch later in the day to take pictures and see if she could get a rock or other souvenir to take home.
"I'm just a groupie. I'm an old groupie now," said Ellis, who held an American flag and a sign with a photocopied image of Jackson. "I'm a die-hard, true fan."
"I adore him. He's a genius," said Lorena Gonzalez, 24, a college student who came up for the service with her mother from Monterrey, Mexico.
"Michael was a legend. He had to die young because he was an idol," said her mother, Elsa Lopez de Gonzalez, 50. "He will be missed but he will live forever."
Vernay Lewis, 32, flew in from Wilmington, Del., spent all Monday night on the streets outside Staples Center, wrapped in a blanket to stay warm overnight.
Lewis said she did not care that she traveled cross-country even though she did not have a wristband to attend the memorial. She just wanted to be near the singer and his fans.
"I think it was his kind heart, his gentleness, his childlike ways," said Lewis, who signed a wall for fans to offer farewell sentiments to Jackson. "For me, he was the whole package as far as what an entertainer and what a person was supposed to be. I just think he was wonderful."