Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer a 'strong' woman who was 'all about equality'

The 32-year-old paralegal, who wanted to send a clear message to the neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers that had gathered in her city, died when a car plowed into a crowd in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.

A strong sense of social justice was a constant theme in her personal and working life

A makeshift memorial for Heather Heyer grew throughout the day Sunday. The 32-year-old's death punctuated an ugly scene in Charlottesville, Va. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Heather Heyer came to downtown Charlottesville, Va., with her friends to take a stand against white nationalists who converged on the Virginia college town to demand the city keep a statue honouring a Confederate war hero, her boss said on Sunday.

The 32-year-old paralegal wanted to send a clear message to the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan sympathizers who planned to stage one of the largest supremacist rallies in recent U.S. history that people abhor such views in the city where she was born, Alfred Wilson said.

But her decision to join counter-protesters on Saturday resulted in tragedy when a 20-year-old Ohio man drove his car at high speed into a line of marchers, killing Heyer and injuring at least 19 others.

A strong sense of social justice was a constant theme in Heyer's personal and working life, said Wilson, bankruptcy division manager at the Miller Law Group.

"There have been times that I've walked back to her office and she had tears in her eyes" for various injustices she saw in the world, such as the time she was weeping after reading anti-Muslim comments online, Wilson said.

Heather Heyer was killed on Saturday when a car rammed into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, Va., who had come to demonstrate against white nationalists and supremacists rallying in the college town. (Felicia Correa/GoFundMe)

'She was all about equality'

Heyer was "a very strong, very opinionated young woman" who "made known that she was all about equality," he told Reuters on Sunday.

The two have worked closely since Heyer joined the firm a little more than five years ago.

"Purple was her favourite colour," said Wilson, recalling how much Heyer, who shared a duplex apartment in Charlottesville with her beloved pet Chihuahua named Violet. "She would wear purple a lot, and she would wear it every day if she could get away with it."

Clashes erupt at white nationalist rally in Virginia

5 years ago
Duration 0:44
Clashes broke out at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., with the governor later declaring a state of emergency

Born in Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia's main campus, Heyer was raised in a nearby town and graduated from William Monroe High School in Stanardsville.

A big part of Heyer's job was to help people who were trying to avoid being evicted from their homes, or have their cars repossessed, or needed help paying medical bills, he said.

Heyer was a supporter of Bernie Sanders, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination won by Hillary Clinton, Wilson said.

As a white woman, she thought it unfair that she enjoyed liberties that Wilson, as a black man, did not, he said.

"You're college-educated, but if you walk into the store you may have people following you, and it's not fair," Wilson quoted Heyer as having said to him often.

Heyer, said Wilson, was strongly opposed to President Donald Trump, and she also spoke out against Jason Kessler, the blogger who organized the "Unite the Right" rally that was broken up before it began on Saturday.

A local resident of Charlottesville wipes tears from her eyes at a vigil where 20 candles were burned, one for Heather Heyer and the others for 19 people injured in the same attack. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The rally drew white supremacist groups such as the KKK, Nazi sympathizers, armed militias and alt-right groups who say they advocate for "pro-white" culture. 

"A big thing that bothered Heather was this whole past election," said Wilson. "She would literally sit in the office and cry at times because she was worried about what was going to happen to the country."

A GoFundMe campaign started Saturday for Heyer's family quickly exceeded its $200,000 US goal.