“I want her death to be a rallying cry for justice and equality and fairness and compassion,” says mother of Heather Heyer. “No mother wants to lose a child, but I’m proud of her.”
Though there is much more to learn about the lone victim—identified by family and friends on Sunday as Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal from Virginia—who lost her life in the vicious attack in Charlottesville on a group of anti-racist demonstrators, the last public message she left behind offered at least a semblance of what inspired her to march against hate on Saturday: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
The well-worn but still evocative saying is the banner image on Heyer’s public Facebook page, receiving increased attention since her horrific death on Saturday afternoon when an individual—the police have arrested and charged 20-year-old James Fields Jr. with murder—intentionally slammed a car into people protesting a rally by neo-Nazi and white supremacists in the city.
On a GoFundMe page, established with the apparent blessing of Heyer’s family, a friend wrote, “Heather Heyer was murdered while protesting against hate. She is a Greene County native and Graduated from William Monroe High School. Her mother […] said ‘She died doing what was right. My heart is broken, but I am forever proud of her’.” The page—which had set a $50,000 goal—had already surpassed that amount as of this writing.
It appears Heyer updated her cover photo with the message just days after President Donald Trump was elected in November.
In an interview with the Huffington Post published Sunday afternoon, Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said she was “proud” of her daughter “who always had a very strong sense of right and wrong.” Even as a child, said Bro, she “was very caught up in what she believed to be fair.”
She added, “Somehow I almost feel that this is what she was born to be, is a focal point for change. I’m proud that what she was doing was peaceful, she wasn’t there fighting with people.”
In reporting on Sunday, it was shown that Fields, the alleged attacker, was at the gathering of white supremacists with a neo-Nazi group called Vanguard America.
According to the Guardian:
Photographs from earlier that day appear to show Fields rallying with Vanguard America and carrying a shield bearing the group’s insignia. He wears the white polo shirt and khaki pants that are the group’s uniform.
Vanguard America were a highly visible presence at the Unite the Right rally on Saturday, where they marched in military-style formation, and the torchlight rally the previous night on the University of Virginia campus. On the group’s Twitter account, and on social media accounts belonging to regional chapters, there was extensive promotion of the Unite the Right rally in the weeks leading up to the event.
The group’s motto, “blood and soil” was a popular chant at both events. It is derived from the Nazi slogan “blut und boden”, which links conceptions of racial purity with a particular national territory.
In her comments to the HuffPost, Heyer’s mother indicated her sympathy for Fields and expressed concern for the hatred that may have motivated him. “I think he’s still very young, and I’m sorry he believed that hate could fix problems. Hate only brings more hate,” Bro said. “Heather was not about hate, Heather was about stopping hatred. Heather was about bringing an end to injustice.”
Describing the scene in the wake of the Saturday’s attack left Heyer dead, the New York Daily News‘ Nicole Hensley reported how:
One man pumped the Virginia native’s chest and another held an oxygen mask to her face as state police clutched their rifles during the chaotic aftermath of the attack.
The crash impact left Heyer lying on the pavement alongside another bloodied victim who was wearing a black shirt emblazoned with words of protest.
On the GoFundMe page in her honor, people left messages of thanks and offered condolences to her friends and family.
“Bless you for standing up when others did not,” said one.
Another added, “Please be proud of your girl who died standing against hate.”
“Not many are brave enough to stand up to racism,” read a separate posting. “I know plenty of my own people who won’t even stand up. But this woman, who had nothing to loose or gain from it, was killed on behalf of the many POCs who still deal with racism on a daily basis. Thank you for your courage sister. Much love!”
Bro said that she doesn’t want her daughter’s death “to be a focus for more hatred.”
“I want her death to be a rallying cry for justice and equality and fairness and compassion,” she said. “No mother wants to lose a child, but I’m proud of her.”