Allegedly murdered by white supremacist, Heather Heyer fought for fairness and equality: mother

‘I’m not really surprised my child died this way, because she would stand up for what she believed in’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 12:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 1:52pm

Heather Heyer was killed Saturday as she pushed back against hatred.

She left behind a chihuahua named Violet, “because purple is Heather’s favourite colour,” her mother, Susan Bro, said Sunday. She paused. “It was her favourite colour,” she corrected herself through the tears.

Her daughter was among those gathered to oppose the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalists making a show of force in Charlottesville , Virginia. Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured when police say an Ohio man barrelled toward them in his Dodge Challenger.

“I’m not really surprised my child died this way, because she would stand up for what she believed in,” Bro said.

Heyer, whose Facebook cover photo read: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”, worked for the Charlottesville law firm Miller Law and regularly drew attention to cases of police malpractice and racism, as well as posting her support for Bernie Sanders in his presidential campaign.

Sitting at the kitchen table in her home north of Charlottesville, with Violet wandering by her feet, Bro said her daughter’s last day reflected the way she treated others, including those with whom she disagreed.

Accused ram attacker took part in white-supremacist rally

Over the years, Heyer would ask people why they came to their beliefs. Heyer’s friends told her mom she was at it again during the demonstrations Saturday, going up to people with opposing views and asking them “Why do you believe this?” or “Why do you think this way?”

She died for a reason. I don’t see any difference in her or a soldier who died in war. [She] died for her country
Felicia Correa, a friend of Heather Heyer

“Heather has always stood for fairness and equal treatment of everybody,” said Bro, 60.

And the anguished mother is trying to do the same, with the man who authorities say murdered Heyer.

James Alex Fields Jnr, 20, was charged with second-degree murder after police said the Dodge Challenger he was driving “at a high rate of speed” rear-ended another car and pushed vehicles into a crowd of pedestrians. He then backed up and fled, they said. Fields was also charged with three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit-and-run.

A former teacher said Fields sympathised with Nazi views and idolised Adolf Hitler. Virginia’s secretary of public safety called him a terrorist.

Every time Bro closed her eyes Saturday night, the tears would come. When she couldn’t sleep, she tried busying herself doing laundry. “Who does laundry when their child’s died? That’s all I could do,” she said.

Despite her pain, Bro said she doesn’t want people to hate Fields. It isn’t what her daughter would have wanted, she said.

“Our daughter did not live a life of hate, and hating this young man is not going to solve anything ... It’s not that I think he should go unpunished for his crime. But hate only engenders more hate, and there’s no purpose in hate,” Bro said. “Heather’s life was about, passionately about, fairness and equality and caring, and that’s what we want people to take away from this.”

Of the 19 people taken to the University of Virginia Medical Center in connection with the crash, nine were discharged as of Sunday afternoon, a spokeswoman said.

A childhood friend said she was inspired by Heyer’s mix of backbone and heart.

Even as a quiet young girl, Heyer stood up for people being picked on while riding the schools bus, friend Felicia Correa said.

On Saturday, she was killed standing up for her country, Correa said.

“People will remember her name and remember what she died for,” she said.

Correa said she recently was swamped with medical bills after complications related to her multiple sclerosis, so she went to a Charlottesville law firm. When Heyer walked out to meet her, she was ecstatic to see the friend she had known growing up in Greene County.

Heyer jumped in and guided Correa, who was uninsured and is a mother of six, through the daunting financial process. She was a “young white woman who died standing up not just for people of colour in general but, also the people of colour that I love, that I worry about,” said Correa, who is biracial, black and Hispanic.

“She died for a reason. I don’t see any difference in her or a soldier who died in war. She, in a sense, died for her country. She was there standing up for what was right,” Correa said. “I just want to make sure that it wasn’t in vain.”

A crowdfunding page to raise money for Heyer’s family has already far exceeded its US$50,000 target, with almost 3,000 people donating within 11 hours, many leaving tributes describing her as a hero. Sheryl Hodge wrote: “We are so sad and outraged. We will not let Heather go in vain.” George Christos said: “Very sad that our country continues to see this hatred and that a young life was lost as a result.”

Her friends were organising a candlelit vigil in her memory on Sunday night.

Heyer was a challenge to raise sometimes because she was so strong-minded, but that didn’t upset Bro. She always encouraged her to be independent and think for herself. “If she believed something was right, you could not dissuade her,” Bro said.

The two would discuss their shared concerns about racism and hatred. They supported fighting for equal treatment, whether through Black Lives Matter advocacy or by tipping waitresses fairly.

“I’m very proud of my baby, but I do miss her,” Bro said. “We would’ve talked about the rally together by now.”

Additional reporting by The Guardian