Mom of Charlottesville victim to speak at street dedication
By SARAH RANKIN
Dec. 20, 2017
Just over four months after a young Charlottesville woman was killed when a car plowed into people protesting a white nationalist rally, the Virginia city will dedicate part of the street where she was marching in her honor.
Charlottesville is holding a ceremony Wednesday morning to designate part of 4th Street, where the gray Dodge Challenger barreled into the crowd, "Honorary Heather Heyer Way." Among those slated to speak is Heyer's mother, Susan Bro.
Bro said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that she's happy to see the city honoring her daughter in this way.
"This puts her death spot on the map, so to speak," Bro said.
Heyer, a legal assistant described as a compassionate woman with a powerful sense of fairness, had taken to the streets with hundreds of others on Aug. 12 to decry what experts say was the country's biggest gathering of white nationalists in a decade. The counterprotesters were making their way through downtown, singing songs and chanting triumphantly, about two hours after authorities had cleared the park where the rally was to take place.
The attack sent bodies flying and sparked panic. A police detective testified last week that 35 other people were injured.
The driver of the car, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Ohio man described as an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, was arrested and has been charged with murder and nine other felonies.
Bro said she was the "first one in the courtroom and last one out" at Fields' preliminary hearing last week, where a judge agreed to upgrade a second-degree murder charge to first-degree murder at the request of prosecutors.
"I was relieved to see evidence I believe validated the stronger charge," Bro said.
Asked if she planned to file a lawsuit in connection with Heyer's death, Bro responded that "time will tell."
Since the rally, Bro said she has received hate mail and threats — usually anonymous — and had to bury her daughter at an undisclosed location as a protective measure.
"I don't know that anybody would bother her grave but why take the chance?" she said.
But she also said she's gotten about 100 positive messages for every negative one, an "outpouring from across the world."
Bro quit her job as a secretary and bookkeeper for a Virginia Cooperative Extension office after her daughter's death. She now spends her time talking about Heyer's legacy in interviews and speaking engagements and working as the president and chair of the board of the Heather Heyer Foundation , which has established a scholarship program for students "passionate about positive social change."
In an interview with AP two days after Heyer died, Bro said she would prefer to grieve in private but felt compelled to speak out to try to follow her daughter's example.
On Tuesday, Bro said she often gets asked if she plans to take a step back from her public appearances and advocacy work.
"This is how I cope. This is how I grieve. This is how I handle it," she said.