Virginia city to hold memorial service for woman killed in violence

Car attack victim Heather Heyer’s mother Susan Bro speaks at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, US. (Source: Reuters) Related News

A 32-year-old woman killed when a suspected white nationalist crashed his car into anti-racist demonstrators in was to be remembered on Wednesday at a memorial service in this southern US college town. Heather Heyer was killed after hours of clashes on Saturday between white nationalists attending a “Unite the Right” gathering and counter-protesters.

Fall-out from the incident has become the biggest domestic challenge faced yet by President Donald Trump, who was assailed from across the political spectrum over his initial response blaming “many sides” for the unrest.

On Monday, the Republican president bowed to political pressure and denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, but on Tuesday he inflamed tensions again by insisting that counter-protesters were also to blame.

Alvin Edwards, pastor of Charlottesville’s Mt Zion First African Baptist Church, was due to address the memorial for Heyer at the city’s historic Paramount Theater, which opened in 1931 and is located near the spot where she died. Her parents, Susan Diane Bro and Mark Heyer, asked people attending the service at 11 am ET (1500 GMT) to wear purple, her favorite color.

Residents of the usually quiet, liberal-leaning Virginia city were shocked by the weekend violence they said was brought by outsiders.

At a community meeting on Monday night, Edwards called on residents to continue to work to make Charlottesville a less appealing place for white supremacists to protest. “One of the things I want to make sure we do as a community and as a city is that we have to stand up and show the strength that we have in our community,” Edwards said, adding that he was
stunned to be facing Ku Klux Klan sympathizers more than a half-century after the height of the civil rights movement.

White nationalists called Saturday’s rally to protest plans to remove a statue of General Robert E Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army in the US Civil War.

Outside the Paramount Theater on Wednesday morning, artist Sam Welty was chalking a 7-1/2 foot (2.3 meter) high portrait of Heyer on a memorial wall nearby, where many tributes to the slain woman have been written. “The way she lost her life, doing what she did, really stood for Charlottesville. It makes me wish that I knew her,” Welty, 42, said as he worked on the portrait.

“It’s a shame that people who don’t live here had to come and unleash hate and violence and put Charlottesville on the world map for something that it does not deserve.”

James Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man who is said to have harbored Nazi sympathies, has been charged with murder, malicious wounding and fleeing the scene. Nineteen other people were injured in the incident.

On her way to work at a Charlottesville insurance office, Stephanie Sherwood, 28, said she had always lived in the city, and had never seen anything like Saturday’s events. “I cannot believe that in 2017 we are still dealing with white supremacists and neo-Nazis,” she said, adding that Trump’s remarks on Tuesday made her very angry.

“He went off the rails yesterday, but I think he really showed who he is as a person,” Sherwood said.

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