SHARPES, Fla. (USA TODAY) — The father of a 32-year-old woman killed after protesting white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., had a message Monday for the country: Stop the hate.
Mark Heyer said his daughter fervently believed in the rights of others and he was proud of her for taking a stand to help others. Heather Heyer, who grew up close to Charlottesville in nearby Ruckersville, Va., where her mother still lives, worked as a paralegal at Miller Law Group.
“She was a strong woman who had passionate opinions about the equality of everyone, and she tried to stand up for that,” Mark Heyer said.
Heather Heyer's activism was a part of her life, her father said.
“With her it wasn’t lip service. It was real, you know. It was something that she wanted to share with everyone,” Mark Heyer said.
Her mother, Susan Bro, echoed the same sentiments in an interview with NBC News.
"It was important to her to speak up for people who were not being heard," Bro said Sunday.
White supremacists had gathered Saturday in the hometown of the University of Virginia in what supporters on Twitter had dubbed a #UniteTheRight Rally to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Lee Park downtown. Counter protesters, including Heather Heyer, met the multi-state gathering of hundreds in the alt-right movement.
After the rally, a vehicle plowed into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others; 19 were hospitalized.
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of the Toledo suburb of Maumee, Ohio, is accused of ramming his car into other vehicles that were going slowly as people walked on a narrow side street away from the rally. He was denied bond Monday on charges including second-degree murder, several counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit and run.
"She had more courage than I did," Mark Heyer said of Heather Heyer. "She had a stubborn backbone that if she thought she was right, she would stand there and defy you. If I understand her, she would want to do it peacefully."
Even though he is still in shock over his daughter’s death, Mark Heyer said that people on all sides need to learn to forgive each other.
“I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this," he said. "I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.' ”
Mark Heyer hopes that his daughter's death will be a catalyst for positive change.
“I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people’s hearts,” he said.