Second-year College student Natalie Romero sustained a skull fracture and other facial wounds after being hit by a car that plowed through a crowd of people protesting the “Unite the Right” rally in downtown Charlottesville Aug. 12.
Romero was one of 30 people who were injured in the car attack, which also killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. James Alex Fields, Jr., 20-year-old man from Ohio, is now facing several felony charges, including the second-degree murder.
She was hospitalized, and her injuries were described as not life-threatening.
Romero was also present at the north side of the Rotunda the night before the Aug. 12 rally when white nationalists marched down the Lawn carrying torches. She said while she did not suffer the most on the night of Aug. 11, the torchlit march reminded her that “hatred is not over.”
“You see those flags and you see men wearing Hitler shirts and in front of me, there were men who walked in front of me with their arms out, the Nazi hand sign,” Romero said. “To see that with my own eyes and I’m 20 years old and I’m thinking, ‘We’re in a new era,’ but it’s not over.”
Romero is a Latinx student whose family immigrated from Colombia before she was born. George Villacis, Latinx Student Alliance advocacy co-chair, said the attack on a student within the LSA community is driving members to fight for positive change.
“[The car crash on August 12] hit home very much so since one of our members was affected by it firsthand,” Villacis said. “It gives us more motivation and courage to fight this sort of hatred, racism and bigotry.”
Johanna Moncada, LSA advocacy co-chair and second-year College student, said what happened to Natalie shows white nationalists intentionally targeted all minority groups.
“I think what this kind of sheds light on, especially since Natalie is Latinx, is that not only African Americans are targeted but in general students of color,” Moncada said. “We are the same in their eyes. We represent something they don’t like.”
Many of Romero’s friends describe her as having a fiery spirit and a passion for justice. They believe Romero will return to the University committed to work for progress.
“She’s an incredible little fireball,” Paola Sánchez Valdez, a fourth-year Curry student, said. “She’s always been very outspoken. If she thinks something is wrong, she’ll speak up.”
At the Black Student Alliance’s march against white supremacy Monday night, Romero spoke on her experience and said she may begin the academic year late or take a semester off due to her concussion. However, she said she plans to continue working in activist efforts on Grounds.
“I feel the tingling in my bones, and I can hear the footsteps and it’s coming,” Romero said. “I don’t intend to stop anytime soon. I intend to work all I can with all my ability to continue the fight.”
Sánchez Valdez is a member of Students United Together with Romero and advocates for issues such as tuition equity, immigration, race and climate. She was with Natalie Saturday morning but went home about a half hour before the crash. Sánchez Valdez said she and other students were tear-gassed and experienced more violence than in any other protest she has attended.
“Once we started marching, there was a lot of violence. I got tear gassed, and I’ve participated in these things but I’ve never experienced that level of violence,” Sánchez Valdez said.
“I think what I want Natalie to see most when she comes here is action. She didn’t go to the hospital, she didn’t go through all these things for nothing,” Sánchez Valdez said.
Hannah Borja, a third-year College student, said she visited Romero in the hospital Saturday and Sunday and was comforted to see her friend in good spirits. She and Romero have done advocacy work together on immigration issues across the country.
“I don’t thinks she’s done at all with advocacy and fighting for minority groups. And I see her returning to doing exactly that,” Borja said. “I see her setting an example of what it means to be an advocate and to be an activist, and I think it’ll be an example that hopefully more people are willing to follow.”
Hector Quijano, a third-year College student, also visited Romero in the hospital this week and said it was difficult to see Romero in her condition but could tell she’s eager to come back to school.
“It was very hard to see her like that, but it was also great to see her in good spirits,” Quijano said. “She’s ready to come back once she feels better, to really help out with this cause.”
Romero’s story has gained nationwide attention since the Aug. 12 rally — attention that Romero said she accepts, but wants to extend to others’ stories as well.
“I’m glad that it’s making national news and I’m happy that it’s blown out of the waters,” she said. “I’m happy because it’s a story that needs to be told and it’s not just my story, I wasn’t the only one there, and I wasn’t the worst injured from Saturday.”
Romero also said she has received much support from other University student activists. After Monday’s “March to Reclaim Our Grounds,” she embraced and joked with friends who offered her encouraging words and applauded her courage to speak at the event.
While the crash has put Romero into a wheelchair and in need of a cane to walk, she said she “cannot put into words the amount of love” she has received.
“I feel like ‘okay, I’m going to accept it,’ if this is what it took for people to get mobilized, I’m going to accept it,” Romero said. “I’m a little upset that this is what it takes, but I’m also really happy and very thankful of all the support people have given me.”
Romero’s mother created a GoFundMe page to raise money for Romero’s hospital expenses since she does not have health insurance. As of Monday evening, the page has raised $149,750 exceeding its goal of $120,000. Over 5,000 people have donated.