Family, friends, supporters and other mourners were gathering in Charlottesville Wednesday to honor a 32-year-old legal assistant who was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of people who had turned out to protest a white supremacist rally.
Heather Heyer's shocking death in the narrow streets of Charlottesville on Saturday followed a day and a half of clashes after Ku Klux Klan members, skinheads and neo-Nazis descended on the small Virginia college town to rally against the city's decision to remove a monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Police have charged 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., from Ohio, with second-degree murder for allegedly slamming his car into the counter protesters leaving the monument area after state police had stepped in to cancel the white supremacist rally.
Fields, who initially fled the scene in his badly damaged car, was described by a former high school teacher as an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
The vigil has become a symbol of the community's effort to stand up to the alt-right forces that picked Charlottesville to spread their white supremacist message.
The Paramount Theater, which was hosting the memorial service, said it had made arrangements for overflow attendees to view the vigil through a livestream. Attendees were asked to wear purple, Heyer's favorite color, in her memory.
Heyer, who grew up in nearby Green County and worked at a law firm, was remembered by loved ones as a courageous believer in justice and equality. Family members said they hoped the memorial service would serve to spread the message of her compassion.
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.
Heyer's boss, Larry Miller, said she 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.
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.
Contributing: Associated Press