Friends, family and mourners gathered Wednesday at a memorial service for the woman killed over the weekend when a man drove his car through a crowd of people counterprotesting a white supremacist rally in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia.
The 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a resident of Charlottesville, was one of hundreds of activists who amassed Saturday in the city to stand against a demonstration by white supremacists.
Her mother, Susan Bro, struck a defiant note during the memorial, telling the crowd her daughter’s death would only serve to amplify her message.
“They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her,” she said.
Following a long standing ovation, Bro continued, by encouraging Heyer’s supporters to continue spreading a message of tolerance in her name.
“I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy, this isn’t the end,” Bro told the crowd.
She asked those in attendance to honor Heyer’s memory by doing more to stand up to injustice in the world and work to achieve goals in their own lives.
“You poke that finger at yourself, like Heather would have done, and you find a way,” she said.
Heyer’s cousin Diana Ratcliff teared up as she read a letter she wrote, telling Heyer, “You might not be with us anymore, but you will always be in our hearts.”
“When my children ask me who I admire most, I will tell them you — my baby cousin — who was larger than life and too good for this world,” Ratcliff said.
Friend and co-worker Feda Khateeb-Wilson told a personal story about Heyer, noting Heyer’s affinity for coffee and that she “was not a morning person.”
Heyer, Khateeb-Wilson said, would get to work in the morning and immediately head for the coffee machine. The memorial crowd laughed when Khateeb-Wilson reminded them “she comes in at 10.”
“She was just a wonderful soul. We all admired her commitment to her job and to life in general,” Khateeb-Wilson said. “Our pain will eventually fade away, but our memories of Heather will live on.”
Heyer died Saturday while protesting a gathering of white supremacists. The gathering quickly devolved into chaos and violence as the white supremacists clashed with the protesters in the streets and police failed to intervene.
Eventually, after several separate bouts of violence broke out, police shut down the rally and forced the crowd of white supremacists to disperse, where they were met by large crowds of protesters.
After several more small skirmishes between the two groups, a group of protesters gathered on a downtown street where they planned a march through town.
Before they began marching, however, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., allegedly plowed into the crowd with his Dodge Challenger, killing Heyer and injuring about 20 other people.
Heyer worked in Charlottesville as a legal assistant and has been described by family members as a passionate woman who died fighting for equal rights.
Passion for people
Speaking at the memorial Wednesday, Heyer’s father, Mark, recalled Heyer’s passion and her love of people.
“She wanted equality. And in this issue of the day of her passing, she wanted to put down hate. And for my part, we just need to stop all this stuff and forgive each other,” he said.
Heyer spent her life in the Charlottesville area and graduated from William Monroe High School in nearby Ruckersville. She worked at the Miller Law Group in Charlottesville, where dealt with bankruptcy cases.
Her boss, Larry Miller, told The Associated Press that Heyer was like family 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,” he said.
The service Wednesday was held at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. The theater said in a statement it had to make accommodations for the large crowds and provided space for overflow attendees.
President Donald Trump acknowledged Heyer on Twitter prior to the service, calling her a “truly special young woman.”
Trump drew criticism from a wide range of media personalities and politicians after he failed to specifically address white supremacists in his initial condemnation of the political violence.
Trump, in his initial statement Sunday, condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” but critics wanted him to specifically name white supremacists.
In subsequent comments on Monday, Trump called out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name and declared racism “evil.”
Criticism of Trump
Trump’s critics were unmoved by his repeated denunciations of white supremacists and neo-nazis, and accused him of condoning racism after Trump repeated Tuesday his assertion that violent left-wing protesters deserved partial blame for the incident Saturday.
“I think there is blame on both sides. You look at, you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said. “You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
Two police officers also were killed Saturday when the helicopter they were flying crashed after it broke away from videotaping the riots to support the motorcade of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Funerals for the two police officers, Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates and Lt. H. Jay Cullen, will take place on Friday and Saturday, respectively.