Charlottesville mom keeps daughter’s cause alive a year after death

FILE PHOTO: A photograph of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer is seen amongst flowers left at the scene of the car attack on a group of counter-protesters that took her life during the "Unite the Right" rally as people continue to react to the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. on August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Justin Ide/File Photo

By Joseph Ax

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – Every few weeks, Susan Bro walks down 4th Street in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, until she gets to a brick wall covered in chalked messages like “Love over hate” and “Gone but not forgotten.”

“I come just to absorb the energy of the place,” Bro, 61, said on Tuesday as she stood on the block now named for her daughter, Heather Heyer, who was killed a year ago while marching against a white supremacist rally.

Since August 12, 2017, when James Fields rammed his car into counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heyer and injuring several others, Bro has channeled her rage and grief into spreading the same message that drew her daughter downtown that day.

Bro said she made a promise to her daughter at her funeral, when she saw her bruised, broken body for the first time and broke down in tears.

“I held her hand and said, ‘I’m going to make this count.'”

Heyer’s death capped a day of clashes after hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others descended upon the city, drawing national attention to the “alt right” movement that had grown bolder since President Donald Trump’s election.

Trump faced intense criticism after the protests when he seemed to equate the white nationalists with the counter-protesters, saying there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Bro said she chose not to return several phone calls from the White House after learning of the president’s remarks.

As the city prepares for the first anniversary of the so-called “Unite the Right” rally, Bro is readying herself for another difficult milestone in a year full of painful moments without Heather.

“The ‘firsts’ are always hardest,” she said, her voice cracking. “I got through the others: Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas. This will be the last one.”

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2018 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, looks at the memorial and writings at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. Picture taken July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2018 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, looks at the memorial and writings at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. Picture taken July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Bro said she would bring flowers to Heather Heyer Way on August 12 before speaking at an event to mark the anniversary.

Law enforcement agencies have made extensive plans to combat any potential violence, though the leader of last year’s gathering, local white nationalist Jason Kessler, failed to secure a permit for a sequel this year. Instead, he has obtained a permit to hold a rally in Washington outside the White House.

Before last summer, Bro, a former elementary schoolteacher, led a relatively quiet life, doing secretarial work and living in a modest trailer home about 30 minutes north of Charlottesville.

At Heyer’s memorial service, which drew nearly 2,000 mourners and was broadcast live on large screens, Bro said the national response to the tragedy was “just the beginning of Heather’s legacy.”

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what? You just magnified her,” she said, drawing a standing ovation.

Within weeks of Heyer’s death, Bro created the Heather Heyer Foundation, in part to install a formal and legal structure to handle the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds that poured in from sympathizers around the country.

Bro runs the foundation from her home and from an office at a Charlottesville law firm, filled with tributes to Heyer that she has received over the last year: a portrait painted by an artist, a humanitarian award given posthumously by the Muhammad Ali Center, notes written by Heyer’s friends at her memorial service.

The foundation has organized a scholarship program and is planning to launch a social justice youth program.

Bro found herself making appearances on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and at MTV’s Video Music Awards. She acknowledged that the intense media attention has caused resentment among some activists in Charlottesville who feel the focus on Heyer, a white woman, has distracted from the racial issues at the core of the clashes.

It has been a bit of a balancing act, she said, to amplify Heyer’s message without making it seem as though her daughter was the only victim who mattered. She noted that violence against black people often does not generate the same level of interest and warned against the “white-centered” narrative that portrayed Heyer as a leader rather than simply one of many people who decided to march.

“The issues have not changed,” Bro said. “We still have police shootings, over-policing, a lack of affordable housing, the prison pipeline.”

A year after burying her daughter, Bro reflected on the activism that brought Heyer to the protests.

“The point of Heather’s death is that we have a responsibility to rise up to address that hate,” Bro said. “Don’t sit by and wring your hands.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

At least 10 injured in Ohio State University attack

Ohio State Seal

(Reuters) – At least 10 people were injured, one critically, at Ohio State University, in an attack that was carried out by an assailant who used a knife and a vehicle to attack people , local officials said.

The assailant was shot and killed by police but not before he had struck his victims with the vehicle and stabbed them, the university said in a statement.

Ohio State University said it had lifted a shelter-in-place order shortly before noon local time, adding that the campus was secure.

Ohio State University police and local law enforcement continued their investigation at the campus, the college said.

The university campus remained open, although classes were canceled for the rest of the day.

Rebecca Diehm, a spokeswoman for the Columbus Fire Department, said 10 people were injured and transported to local hospitals, with one person in critical condition.

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center treated five people with non-life threatening injuries and all were in stable condition, spokeswoman Amanda Harper said.

Two people were treated at Grant Medical Center and two others at Riverside Medical Center, said Mark Hopkins, a spokesman for Ohio Health, which runs a state hospital network. All four were in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries, according to Hopkins, who could not confirm the nature of the injuries.

“The Columbus City Council stands united with Ohio State University,” said Council President Zach Klein. “We are continually thinking about and praying for all those involved and affected by this senseless act of violence.”

“Ohio’s thoughts and prayers go out to the Ohio State community,” Ohio Governor John Kasich said in a statement. “Be safe, listen to first responders.”

(Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland and Laila Kearney and Franklin Paul in New York, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)