CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — Heather Heyer dedicated her life to standing up for those she felt were not being heard, her family and friends said. She died fighting for her beliefs and campaigning against hate.
“She was very strong in what she felt and she spoke with conviction,” Heyer’s close friend and co-worker Marissa Blair told Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day.”
“She would never back down from what she believed in. And that’s what she died doing, she died fighting for what she believed in. Heather was a sweet, sweet soul and she’ll never be replaced, she’ll never be forgotten.”
Thirty-two-year-old Heyer was killed Saturday when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters gathered to oppose a “Unite the Right” rally of white nationalist and other right-wing groups. Nineteen others were injured in the incident.
A 20-year-old man from Ohio, James Alex Fields Jr., is charged with second-degree murder in Heyer’s death.
Passionate about helping people
Heather’s parents recalled their daughter’s lifelong zeal for justice.
Heather’s father Mark Heyer said his daughter had strong convictions and was passionate about helping people.
“She died trying to bring about that purpose,” he told CNN on Sunday. “She was always passionate about the beliefs she held, she had a bigger backbone than I did,” he said.
Her mother, Susan Bro, addressed Fields, the man being held in custody.
“This wasn’t a video game, buddy,” she said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “This was real people. There are real consequences to what you did. I’m sorry you’ve chosen to do that. You have ruined your life and you’ve disturbed mine, but you took my child from me.”
“And I’m going to be the voice that she can no longer be. You gave us a national forum, and maybe I should thank you for that, but I can’t. I’d rather have my child.”
‘We were against hate’
Blair said she was at Saturday’s rally with Heather and fiance Marcus Martin in a show of support for diversity.
“We were against hate, that’s what we were against,” Blair told CNN. Blair wore a purple T-shirt with a picture of Heather and the words: “If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.”
“This is our city. We work here. We live here. And we didn’t want neo-Nazis and alt-right and racists to come into our city and think they could spread freely their hate, and their bigotry and their racism. We wanted to let them know that we were about love, that we were would overpower them … We were peacefully protesting and we were just standing up for what we believe in… And that’s what Heather stood for. That’s why she was out there, that’s why we were out there.”
Blair said Martin pushed her out of the way when he saw the car coming their way. Martin was hit and sent flying through the air, breaking his leg. The moment was captured in a photograph that has been published widely.
Martin returned to the scene of the crash in a wheelchair Sunday night for a vigil for Heather. Blair calls Martin and Heather her “heroes.”
“She spoke for people even if they didn’t want speak for themselves,” Blair said. “Words can’t describe Heather, I will never find another friend like Heather.”
‘We need to start with forgiveness’
Mark Heyer said the only way to get through this tough time is to remember God teaches us to forgive.
“We need to start with forgiveness and stop all of the hate,” he said.
Heather worked as a paralegal for a Charlottesville law firm, assisting clients through the bankruptcy filing process.
Heyer had just celebrated her five-year anniversary with the firm last week. Her boss, Larry Miller, said they went out for lunch for the occasion and he remembered telling her that she was a lot better than she gave herself credit for.
Miller described Heyer as precise with her work, as witty and being like family.
Co-worker Victoria Jackson said Heyer was not one to take vacation. Heyer ate lunch at her desk because she was dedicated to the needs of her clients, Jackson added.
Jackson cried as she talked about Heyer, whom she had worked with side-by-side for 18 months. Heyer told Jackson she was worried that there would be gun violence at the white nationalist rally.
“Heather said, I want to go so badly but I don’t want to get shot. I don’t want to die,” Jackson said.
But Heyer went anyway because she wanted to stand up for what she believed in.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe praised Heyer.
“She was doing what she loved,” McAuliffe said. “She was fighting for democracy, (for) free speech, to stop hatred and bigotry.”
Blair promised to make sure that Heather’s message would live on.
“If you knew Heather, you would know that she loves everyone and all she wants is equality for everyone, no matter who you love, no matter what color you are,” she said.