The mother of a woman killed while protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville urged mourners at a memorial service Wednesday to “make my daughter’s death worthwhile” by confronting injustice and channeling “anger into righteous action,” stirring applause from the hundreds of people who packed into a downtown theater wearing the victim’s favorite color, purple.
“They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her,” said Susan Bro, pointing a defiant finger as her audience gave her a standing ovation.
The white nationalists who had pledged to show up and potentially disrupt services for Heather Heyer were nowhere to be seen among the residents, clergy people and out-of-town tourists who gathered outside the Paramount Theatre to remember her.
Heyer was among the hundreds of protesters who had gathered Saturday in Charlottesville to decry what was believed to be the largest gathering of white nationalists in a decade — including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members. They descended on the city for a rally prompted by the city’s decision to remove a Confederate monument.
Counter-protesters had converged for a march along a downtown street when suddenly a Dodge Challenger barreled into them, hurling people into the air. The Ohio man who police say was driving, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., was described by a former high school teacher as an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. He was quickly taken into custody and has been charged with second-degree murder and other counts.
Heyer’s family members and friends said her death would only inspire them to fight harder for justice.
“This is not the end of Heather’s legacy,” Bro said. “It was just the beginning of Heather’s legacy.”
Bro urged those who wanted to honor her daughter to “find in your heart that small spark of accountability.”
“You poke that finger at yourself like Heather would have done, and you make it happen,” she said. “”You take that extra step and you find a way to make a difference in the world!”
Heyer’s grandfather said his 32-year-old granddaughter always wanted fairness, even from a young age.
Elwood Shrader said Heyer showed her passion for equality and swiftly called out something that wasn’t right. He said she wanted respect for everyone and believed “all lives matter.”
Mark Heyer, her father, said his daughter wanted to “put down hate.”
President Donald Trump tweeted for the first time Wednesday about Heyer, calling her “beautiful and incredible” and a “truly special young woman.” He said “she will be long remembered by all!”
Trump told reporters Tuesday that he planned to reach out to Heyer’s family. The White House did not respond to questions Wednesday about whether Trump has contacted Heyer’s family.
Heyer was a Charlottesville resident and legal assistant. She grew up in nearby Greene County and worked as a legal assistant at a law firm. Her boss, Larry Miller, said the young woman was active in the firm’s bankruptcy practice and was like a family member to him.
“She’s very compassionate, she’s very precise, got a big heart,” Miller said. “She wants to make sure that things are right. She cares about the people that we take care of.”
Also killed Saturday were two Virginia State Police troopers who were aboard a helicopter that was providing video of the event before it broke off to lend support to a motorcade for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The helicopter crashed outside of Charlottesville. An investigation into the crash is ongoing.
A funeral for Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates has been set for Friday and a funeral for Lt. H. Jay Cullen, the helicopter’s pilot, is scheduled for Saturday.