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Memorial, Vigil in Virginia Honor Woman Killed at White Supremacist March


A huge crowd carrying candles and singing filled the streets of downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, Wednesday night for a vigil for Heather Heyer, the woman killed last Saturday when a Nazi sympathizer allegedly ran her down with his car.

Heyer was one of hundreds of counterprotesters marching against a white supremacist rally in the southern college town.

Friends, family and mourners gathered earlier Wednesday for a memorial service for Heyer.

'Heather's legacy'

Her mother, Susan Bro, struck a defiant note, telling the crowd her daughter’s death would only serve to amplify her message.

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her,” she said.

Following a long standing ovation, Bro continued, by encouraging Heyer’s supporters to continue spreading a message of tolerance in her name.

“I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy, this isn’t the end,” she told the crowd.

WATCH: Bro talks about her daughter

She asked those in attendance to honor Heyer’s memory by doing more to stand up to injustice in the world and work to achieve goals in their own lives.

“You poke that finger at yourself, like Heather would have done, and you find a way,” she said.

Heyer’s cousin Diana Ratcliff teared up as she read a letter she wrote, telling Heyer, “You might not be with us anymore, but you will always be in our hearts.”

“When my children ask me who I admire most, I will tell them you — my baby cousin — who was larger than life and too good for this world,” Ratcliff said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, left, and Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer visit a makeshift memorial Aug. 16, 2017, where Heather Heyer was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally Charlottesville, Va.
Sen. Tim Kaine, left, and Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer visit a makeshift memorial Aug. 16, 2017, where Heather Heyer was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally Charlottesville, Va.

State's troubled history

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia and its former governor, was at the service. He referred to the state’s troubled history with race relations when he told reporters, “We have so much scar tissue in Virginia. We know the pains of bigotry and division because of our history, but we’ve moved forward in a way that this community can be proud of. ... We’re not going backward.”

Kaine also criticized the leadership of President Donald Trump, saying bigots have been emboldened by the president’s mixed messages on the tragedy.

“There’s an absence of moral leadership in the Oval Office right now,” he said. “This is the kind of moment where the nation needs a leader — someone who can call on our better angels and bring us together. That’s absent in the White House now.”

Charlottesville violence

Heyer died Saturday while protesting a gathering of white supremacists. The gathering quickly devolved into chaos and violence as the white supremacists clashed with the protesters in the streets and police didn’t immediately intervene.

Eventually, after several bouts of violence broke out, police shut down the rally and forced the crowd of white supremacists to disperse, where they were met by large crowds of protesters.

After several more small skirmishes between the two groups, a group of protesters gathered on a downtown street where they planned a march through town.

A makeshift memorial of flowers and a photo of victim, Heather Heyer, sits in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 13, 2017. Heyer died when a car rammed into a group of people who were protesting the presence of white supremacists who had gathered in the city for
A makeshift memorial of flowers and a photo of victim, Heather Heyer, sits in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 13, 2017. Heyer died when a car rammed into a group of people who were protesting the presence of white supremacists who had gathered in the city for

Before they began marching, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., allegedly plowed into the crowd with his Dodge Challenger, killing Heyer and injuring about 20 other people.

Heyer worked in Charlottesville as a legal assistant and has been described by family members as a passionate woman who died fighting for equal rights.

Watch: Charlottesville Victim's Father Says His Daughter Wanted Equality

Speaking at the memorial Wednesday, Heyer’s father, Mark, recalled Heyer’s passion and her love of people.

“She wanted equality. And in this issue of the day of her passing, she wanted to put down hate. And for my part, we just need to stop all this stuff and forgive each other,” he said.

Heyer spent her life in the Charlottesville area and graduated from William Monroe High School in nearby Ruckersville. She worked at the Miller Law Group in Charlottesville, where she dealt with bankruptcy cases.

The service Wednesday was held at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. The theater said in a statement it made accommodations for the large crowds and provided overflow space for attendees.

President Donald Trump acknowledged Heyer on Twitter before the service, calling her a “truly special young woman.”

Criticism for the president

Trump drew criticism from a wide range of politicians and media personalities after he failed to specifically address white supremacists in his initial condemnation of the political violence.

Trump, in his initial statement Sunday, condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” but critics wanted him to specifically name white supremacists.

Watch: Trump Continues to Take Fire for Comments on Violence in Virginia

In subsequent comments Monday, Trump called out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name and declared racism “evil.”

Trump’s critics were unmoved by his repeated denunciations of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and accused him of condoning racism after Trump repeated Tuesday his assertion that violent left-wing protesters deserved partial blame for the incident Saturday.

“I think there is blame on both sides. You look at, you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said. “You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”

Cynthia Sullivan of Charlottesville, Va., stands in line for a memorial service for Heather Heyer, who was killed during a white nationalist rally, in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 16, 2017.
Cynthia Sullivan of Charlottesville, Va., stands in line for a memorial service for Heather Heyer, who was killed during a white nationalist rally, in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 16, 2017.

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the violence in Charlottesville while giving a joint statement Wednesday with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, calling the incident a “tragedy” and voicing his support for Trump.

“What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy, and the president has been clear on this tragedy; and so have I,” he said. “I spoke at length about this heart-breaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia, and I stand with the president and I stand by those words. But today, while I’m here in Chile, our hearts are in Charlottesville.”

Two police officers also were killed Saturday when the helicopter they were flying crashed after it broke away from videotaping the riots to support the motorcade of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Funerals for the two police officers, Trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates and Lt. H. Jay Cullen, will be Friday and Saturday, respectively.

VOA's Turkish service contributed to this report.

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