The parents of Heather Heyer, the woman killed Saturday in a protest against white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia, remembered the 32-year-old as a big-hearted, outspoken woman who wanted equality for all.
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About 1,000 mourners gathered Wednesday for Heyer’s memorial in downtown Charlottesville, the same city where police said Heyer was killed while protesting what was believed to be the largest gathering of white supremacists in a decade.
Heyer’s death sparked outrage across the nation and reinvigorated the debate over race relations in America.
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“I think the reason that what happened to Heather has struck a chord is because we know that what she did is achievable,” Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said at Wednesday’s memorial service. “We don’t all have to die. We don’t all have to sacrifice our lives. They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her.”
Since her daughter’s death, Bro said she’s received an outpouring of support from people wondering how to help the grieving family. She suggested that anyone wishing to help should follow Heyer’s example.
“I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die,” Bro said. “This is not the end of Heather’s legacy. You need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. What is there that I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see?”
Heather Heyer’s father, Mark Heyer, remembered his daughter in an emotional speech to mourners as a passionate woman who always spoke her mind.
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“She wanted equality. And in this issue, on the day of her passing, she wanted to put down hate,” he said. “And for my part – we just need to stop all this stuff and just forgive each other. I think that’s what the Lord would want us to do. Just to stop -- just love one another.”
He said he was particularly struck by the diversity of the group gathered to mourn his daughter.
“I was overwhelmed at the rainbow of colors in this room. That’s how Heather was. It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from, if she loved you that was it – you were stuck,” he said with a shaky laugh.
Police said Heyer was killed Saturday when 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., of Ohio, slammed a car into two vehicles and protesters in Charlottesville.
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Fields was described by his former high school teacher as a Nazi sympathizer. He traveled to Charlottesville to participate in the Unite the Right rally, a demonstration organized by white supremacists to oppose the removal of a Confederate memorial from Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park.
Mark Heyer said shortly after his daughter’s death that he forgave Fields, because “as far as I’m concerned, he was deceived by the devil.”
“My daughter was fighting for equal rights, demonstrating against hatred and doing what she thought was right,” Mark Heyer told the New York Post on Sunday. “I can’t hate the man who did this to her because that would make me as bad as the people who did this.”