CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mourners gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Wednesday to honor the woman who was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally that descended into violence last weekend.
Attendees were asked to wear purple, Heyer’s favorite color, in her memory.
The 32-year-old was a Charlottesville resident and legal assistant whose mother described her daughter as a courageous, principled woman and firm believer in justice and equality.
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 supremacists 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.
Chaos and violence erupted before the event even began, with counter-demonstrators and rally-goers clashing in the streets.
Authorities forced the crowd to disperse, and groups then began roaming through town. Counter-protesters had converged for a march along a downtown street when suddenly a Dodge Challenger barreled into them, hurling people into the air. Video shows the car reversing and hitting more people.
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 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, she wants to make sure that things are right. She cares about the people that we take care of. She’s just a great person,” Miller said.
Her mother, Susan Bro, said she would prefer to grieve in private but felt compelled to try to follow her daughter’s example.
“I miss her so, so much, but I’m going to make her death worth something,” Susan Bro told The Associated Press.
Bro also urged mourners 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.
“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.
“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!”
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said this week that his department is working with Heyer’s family to ensure the safety of those at vigils and other memorials.
The Paramount Theater, which is hosting the vigil, said in a statement that it had made arrangements for overflow attendees to view the service through a livestream.
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.