'If you're not outraged you're not paying attention': Charlottesville says farewell to Heather Heyer amid national outrage

Hundreds of mourners packed into a city theatre to remember the young woman

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 16 August 2017 19:32 BST
Heather Heyer's father: "No father should have to do this"

The city of Charlottesville has celebrated the life of Heather Heyer, a passionate, righteous young woman who “made us pay attention” and who was killed during a neo-Nazi-led protest that has turned into Donald Trump’s latest, distracting controversy.

Five days after she was killed when an accused white supremacist allegedly drove into her with a car, hundreds of people packed into the city’s Paramount Theatre to hear from family and friends, and the people she worked with. Many wore purple, the 32-year-old’s favourite colour.

Mr Trump tweeted a message of tribute for a “beautiful and incredible” young woman, while presidents George HW Bush and George W Bush said they were praying for the Virginia college town. But the most striking interventions were from those who knew her best, and who loved her the most.

“My child’s famous final Facebook post said ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention’,” said her mother, said Susan Bro. “My, did she make us pay attention. We talked about all the stuff that caught her attention.”

Turning somewhat defiant, Ms Bro then said that while it was her daughter’s compassion that was being remembered, there were many present who had shown such capacity. A lot of you go that extra mile, she said.

Those present then gave her a standing ovation, as she added: “They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her.”

Ms Heyer, who worked as a paralegal, was among three people to lose their lives last Saturday after activists turned out to oppose what was among the largest gatherings of white nationalists in a decade. Scores of neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan, rallied to protest over the decision to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, the Confederate general.

The move to remove symbols of the Confederacy, including the iconic but notorious battle flag, has gathered pace since the 2015 shooting of nine black churchgoers by white supremacist Dylan Roof.

Police have said that Ms Heyer was killed after she was struck by a Dodge Challenger car that hurled several people into the air. Officials detained 20-year-old James Alex Fields from Ohio over the incident, and charged him with murder. A former high school teacher has said Fields was an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

The two other people to lose their lives were police officers Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who were covering the protests in a helicopter that crashed. They are to due to be buried later this week.

In the aftermath of the incident, Mr Trump drew widespread criticism for his slow, faltering response to events. He initially said he was condemning in the “strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides”. Following criticism that he had sought to draw some equivalence between the neo-Nazis and the activists, he issued a subsequent statement denouncing white supremacists.

Yet at a press conference on Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York, Mr Trump reverted to his initial position:

Heather Heyer's mother: "You tried to shut her up. Well guess what? You just magnified her"

“I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it,” he said.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. No one wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.”

'They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her' (AP)

For all the controversy his remarks triggered, there was little talk of the President at the memorial. Rather, the hour-long service was given over to Ms Heyer’s relatives and friends.

Her father, Mark Heyer, who has spoken of forgiving the man charged with his daughter’s murder, admitted he felt ill-prepared for the task required of him. “No father should have to do this, but I love her,” he said. “As I listen to her friends tell stories about her … She wanted to put down hate. For my part, I just want to stop all of this and love one another.”

Ms Heyer's grandfather, Elwood Shrader, said he remembered reading her stories and rocking her to sleep. “Sometimes we slept together in the chair,” he said.

Alfred Wilson, who employed her at his law firm, said the young woman was like a friend. Frequently she helped with bankruptcy cases, something she handled with great empathy. She was very humble, he said.

“The most amazing thing was the way she interacted with the clients. She would always hold people’s hands.”

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