Hundreds gathered Sunday evening at the site of Saturday’s fatal crash to mourn and remember 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed after a car plowed through a crowd of peaceful protesters in downtown Charlottesville.
The attack was a violent end to a tense day as white supremacists descended on Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” rally to protest City Council’s decision earlier this year to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.
Throughout Sunday, people visited Heyer’s memorial, adding flowers that were being given away and writing messages of support on the road with chalk.
What began as people visiting to show their respect eventually turned into an impromptu vigil.
A vigil was originally planned that would start at the Rotunda and move to Emancipation Park, but it was then moved to being a Facebook Live event hosted by Congregate C’Ville after a “credible threat” was received.
At Heyer’s memorial, people sang songs of unity and encouragement such as “Imagine” by John Lennon, “Hey Jude” by The Beatles and the gospel hymns “This Little Light of Mine” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
Several moments of silence were held for Heyer as well as the two Virginia State Police officers killed in a helicopter crash in Albemarle County, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates.
There were also moments dedicated to unifying those in attendance. In one instance, everyone was asked to turn and hug a person standing near them. At another point, people were asked to introduce themselves to the people around them.
Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy was in attendance, paying his respects by placing a flower on the memorial. Bellamy responded to a member of the crowd who said, “it isn’t about the color of the skin, but the content of your character.”
“White supremacists don’t care about your character,” Bellamy said.
Third-year College student Ben Moore was a co-worker with Heyer at Café Caturra, a restaurant on the Corner.
“I only worked with her for the second semester and even in that short of time she made it impossible not to like her,” Moore said. “She was so outgoing and genuinely interested in everyone’s future and well-being. It was no surprise to me that she was right down in the thick of things fighting for what she believed in.”
Heyer also worked as a paralegal at the Miller Law Group.
Brittany Caine-Conley, lead organizer for Congregate C’ville, was at the head of the crowd and encouraged white members of the community to look within at their role in the tragic death.
“Heather died because white people like myself have not realized the white supremacy inside of us, inside of my congregation, inside of our communities,” Caine-Conley said. “And we as white folks need to do some serious work. I myself need to do serious work about the ways that I am a part of white supremacy.”
Caine-Conley then addressed Heather’s friends and family, who were adorning purple t-shirts with her name and photo on it.
“I know you all said that’s what Heather would want. Heather would want us to recognize that about ourselves, to ask for forgiveness about white supremacy and the ways that it terrorizes our communities, and then to get up and do work,” Caine-Conley said. “We will mourn and we will process and we will love and protect each other but then, my friends, we must get to work.”
Earlier in the day, Gil Harrington and Trina Murphy also visited the memorial to pay their respects.
Harrington was the mother of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who was abducted and murdered in 2009 by Jesse Matthew when she was in Charlottesville for a concert at the John Paul Jones Arena. Matthew is the same man who abducted and murdered University student Hannah Graham in 2014. He pled guilty to both crimes in 2016.
Murphy was the aunt of Alexis Murphy, a 17-year-old girl from Nelson County who was last seen at a Lovington gas station in 2013. In 2014, a jury found Randy Taylor guilty of the abduction and murder of Alexis Murphy. Her body was never found.
“We lost our beloved Morgan, who was murdered in Charlottesville by a black man. The Murphy family lost their beloved Alexis, just down the road, when she was murdered by a white man,” Harrington said. “Despite those horrendous crimes and that violence, we chose to respond to violence by embracing our shared humanity rather than our apparent differences — that is the path forward.”
“In these difficult, troubled times, we must be our very best selves, we must outdo ourselves as we move forward, diminishing hatred and amplifying and magnifying love,” Harrington added.
Murphy denounced the actions of various outside groups that had come to Charlottesville over the weekend.
“This is a horrific thing that’s taken place in our community, but that’s what this is — this is our community,” Murphy said. “We will not allow other people to come in and take it from us. We will not back down.”
A GoFundMe page raised $225,000 over the weekend for Heyer’s family.
Soon after a Dodge Charger drove into the crowd and fled the scene Saturday, police arrested James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old man from Maumee, Ohio.
Fields has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit-and-run. The Justice Department has also launched a civil rights investigation into the attack.
He will make his first court appearance Monday.
Nineteen other people were injured by the car crash and treated at the University medical center. In a series of tweets Sunday, the University Health System said 10 of the people were in good condition and nine had been discharged.