Thursday 19 April 2018

'Heather would cry because she was worried about what was going to happen to the country'

Heather Heyer died after being hit by a car during the protests. Photo: Reuters
Heather Heyer died after being hit by a car during the protests. Photo: Reuters

Bernie Woodall

Heather Heyer came to downtown Charlottesville with her friends to make a stand against white nationalists who converged on the Virginia college town to demand the city keep a statue honouring a Confederate war hero, her boss said.

The 32-year-old paralegal wanted to send a clear message to the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan sympathisers who planned to stage one of the largest far-right rallies in recent US history that people abhor their views in the city where she was born, he said.

But her decision to join counter-protesters on Saturday resulted in tragedy when a 20-year-old Ohio man drove his car at high speed into a line of marchers, killing Ms Heyer and injuring at least 19 others.

A strong sense of social justice was a constant theme in Ms Heyer's personal and working life, said Alfred Wilson, bankruptcy division manager at the Miller Law Group.

"There have been times that I've walked back to her office and she had tears in her eyes" for various injustices she saw in the world, said Mr Wilson, such as the time she was weeping after reading anti-Muslim comments online.

Ms Heyer was "a very strong, very opinionated young woman" who "made known that she was all about equality," he told reporters.

The two had worked closely since Ms Heyer joined the firm a little more than five years ago.

"Purple was her favourite colour," said Mr Wilson, recalling that Ms Heyer shared a duplex apartment in Charlottesville with a beloved pet Chihuahua named Violet.

"She would wear purple a lot, and she would wear it every day if she could get away with it."

Born in Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia's main campus, Ms Heyer was raised in a nearby town and graduated from William Monroe High School in Stanardsville.

A big part of Ms Heyer's job was to help people who were trying to avoid being evicted from their homes, or have their cars repossessed, or needed help paying medical bills, he said.

Ms Heyer was a supporter of Bernie Sanders, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination won by Hillary Clinton, Mr Wilson said.

Unfair

As a white woman, she thought it unfair that she enjoyed liberties that Mr Wilson, as a black man, did not, he said.

"You're college-educated, but if you walk into the store you may have people following you, and it's not fair," Mr Wilson quoted Ms Heyer as having said to him often.

Ms Heyer, said Mr Wilson, was strongly opposed to US President Donald Trump.

She also spoke out against Jason Kessler, the blogger who organised the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was broken up before it began on Saturday.

"A big thing that bothered Heather was this whole past election," said Mr Wilson.

"She would literally sit in the office and cry at times because she was worried about what was going to happen to the country."

Irish Independent

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