Heather Heyer, Charlottesville Victim, Cannot Be Silenced, Mother Says

Heather Heyer, Charlottesville Victim, Cannot Be Silenced, Mother Says

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Mourners who attended the memorial service for Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Va., on Wednesday were asked to wear purple, her favorite color. CreditCreditChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By Hawes Spencer and Caitlin Dickerson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Heather D. Heyer, the woman run down during violent clashes here, was remembered on Wednesday for a quality that friends and relatives described as her most frustrating, and most admired — a passion for fighting injustice that was so relentless, it often spilled into her work and personal life.

Hundreds of mourners packed a theater in downtown Charlottesville for her memorial service, wearing a sea of purple, her favorite color.

Ms. Heyer, 32, had been among a crowd of counterprotesters who gathered on Saturday in opposition to a rally against the removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. That rally drew white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members.

She was killed when a man drove a Dodge Challenger into the crowd of counterprotesters. The police arrested a suspect who had a history of espousing Nazi ideology. The suspect, identified as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, was charged in her death and the wounding of about 20 other protesters.

At the memorial, a photo of Ms. Heyer with long curled hair, bright eyes and an understated smile splashed across a screen in front of the crowd. A raft of friends and family members came to the stage and shared memories of her, speaking from a lectern that was sandwiched between two sprays of pink and purple roses.

They described her convictions as so intense that they prompted tearful outbursts at work, collapsed relationships and argumentative dinners at home, from which her father would occasionally escape to his car to play video games and avoid being lectured.

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Ms. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, right, told mourners that “they tried to kill my child to shut her up.”CreditPool photo by Andrew Shurtleff

But Ms. Heyer’s convictions had penetrated the psyches of her occasionally ambivalent audience, and were celebrated on Wednesday by speaker after speaker.

The message of the day was to stand up for what you believe in. And the most powerful moment came after Ms. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, walked up a short staircase to the stage, pausing to brace herself on a railing and telling the audience that her fibromyalgia had worsened since her daughter’s death. Any weakness seemed to leave her as she delivered her speech with an almost jarring degree of composure.

Ms. Bro had decided, she said, to hold a public service to amplify her daughter’s message of anti-discrimination. “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” she said, quoting from a Facebook post by Ms. Heyer that has been shared more than 26,000 times.

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An artist worked on a mural of Ms. Heyer before Wednesday’s memorial service.CreditJonathan Ernst/Reuters

Ms. Bro called on the mourners, many of whom, she said, were probably caring and compassionate people, to take action on behalf of their values, as had her daughter, who worked as a waitress and a paralegal at a law firm, and had a high school education. She rallied the crowd and drew a standing ovation.

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up,” Ms. Bro called out. “Well, guess what — you just magnified her.”

Ms. Bro did not address President Trump, who earlier this week said that she had thanked him for condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but who later came under fire for equivocal statements that laid blame for the events on Saturday on both sides.

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Mourners and members of the clergy prayed outside the service on Wednesday.CreditEvan Vucci/Associated Press

“It’s not all about forgiveness,” she said. “The truth is, we are going to have our differences, we are going to be angry with each other. But let’s channel that anger not into hate.”

A photo slide show that played during Ms. Heyer’s memorial service showed that she had a diverse array of friends and family. The crowd inside the theater poured into the streets, as people assembled to remember her and two state troopers who died in a helicopter accident on Saturday, as well as other counterprotesters who were injured.

Co-workers told of occasionally finding Ms. Heyer in tears at her desk over injustice. Alfred A. Wilson, a manager at the law firm where she worked, said she had broken up with a boyfriend who questioned her for working for a black man. Mr. Wilson read letters from clients who said Ms. Heyer had helped them navigate financial strife without judgment.

After the ceremony, Gov. Terry McAuliffe told reporters that Ms. Heyer should be “an inspiration to all of us — to do good, to put a hand out, to help one another.”

The message seemed to take hold quickly among those in attendance. “It was really touching,” said Theresa Buggs, 32, of Charlottesville. “I just hope as I get older I’ll be more like Heather.”

Flowers and sympathetic messages continued to accumulate at the corner of Fourth and Water Streets, where Ms. Heyer was struck. Paul Hurdle, 40, a marcher who witnessed what happened on Saturday, returned for the first time Wednesday morning.

“It was an act of terrorism,” Mr. Hurdle said. They say that terrorism is “meant to strike fear in the populace, and I understand that now.”

“Part of me is afraid,” he continued. “But I’m not going to let that govern me.”

As for Ms. Heyer, “she stood up for what she knew was right,” Mr. Hurdle said.

Hawes Spencer reported from Charlottesville, and Caitlin Dickerson from New York.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Mourning a Relentless Voice Against Injustice. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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