Standing in the dappled shade of a driveway hundreds of miles from Charlottesville, Va., Mark Heyer spoke of the violence that claimed his daughter’s life — and, with voice occasionally quavering, called on people to answer hate with forgiveness.
“My daughter was a strong woman that had passionate opinions about the equality of everyone — and she tried to stand up for that,” the Sharpes, Fla., resident told Florida Today in a videotaped interview. “With her, it wasn’t lip service. It was real.”
Just two days earlier, a driver rammed a car into a group of people protesting a white supremacist rally, killing Heyer’s daughter Heather, 32, and wounding 19 other people. Federal authorities have opened a civil rights investigation into the attack, saying “such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred.”
The man allegedly behind the wheel, James Alex Fields Jr., had long harbored sympathies for Nazi ideas, according to a former teacher. Fields has been charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit-and-run.
But the hatred espoused by white supremacists and others in Charlottesville this weekend must not be met with a response that’s “twisted into something negative” in its own right, Mark Heyer told the local newspaper.
“People need to stop hating, and they need to forgive each other. And I include myself in that, in forgiving the guy that did this,” he said. “He doesn’t know no better. You know, I just think of what the Lord said on the cross. Lord forgive him, they don’t know what they’re doing.”
In this respect, he said he aspires to follow his daughter’s example.
“You know, my daughter’s life — she’s …” he paused, searching for words. “I’m proud of her for standing up. She had more courage than I did. She had more courage than I did. She had a stubborn backbone. She thought she was right. She would stand there and defy you.
“But if I understand her,” he added, “she wanted to do it peacefully and with a fierceness of heart that comes with her conviction.”
In interviews with multiple media outlets over the weekend, Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, also praised the way her daughter balanced peaceful efforts with a “very strong sense of right and wrong.”
“It was important to her to speak up for people that she felt were not being heard, to speak up when injustices were happening,” Bro said, “and she saw in the lives of many of her African-American friends particularly and her gay friends that equal rights were not being given.”
One day after the violent gathering that saw protesters and counterprotesters punching and kicking one another — and later saw Heather Heyer killed, along with two state troopers whose helicopter crashed — peaceful protests took shape in cities across the U.S. In Seattle and New York City, Atlanta and in Grand Rapids, Mich., demonstrators sought to respond to the message promulgated in Charlottesville and, in the words of one protester, “resist it fearlessly.”
“I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people’s hearts,” Mark Heyer said. “You can fight all you want and fuss and cuss and do all that stuff, but when you take your last breath, it’s over. It’s done!
“You’re going to take away what a person has and everything else they’re going to have. There is no more — not here, you know,” he added. “And that’s — that’s pretty much all I got, brother.”