WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Heather Heyer came to downtown Charlottesville with her friends to make 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 (Aug 13).
The 32-year-old paralegal wanted to send a clear message to the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan sympathisers who planned to stage one of the largest far-right rallies in recent US history that people abhor their views in the city where she was born, he 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 Alfred 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, said Wilson, such as the time she was weeping after reading anti-Muslim comments online, Wilson said.
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."
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 organiSed the "Unite the Right" rally that was broken up before it began on Saturday.
"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."
Heyer was left lying on the pavement next to another victim, the New York Daily News reported,after the car ploughed into the crowd but it was not known if she died at the scene.
The Independent noted that in her last posting on facebook, Heyer had written: "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."
Heyer's mother said in the statement on a GoFundMe page set up in her daughter's name that: "She died doing what was right. My heart is broken, but I am forever proud of her."
A friend, Felicia Correa, said on the GoFundMe page that Heyer was "murdered while protesting hate". "She will truly be missed," she wrote.
The GoFundMe page had already surpassed its target of raising US$50,000 ($68,000) by Sunday afternoon (Aug 13).
A vigil was planned in her honour later Sunday evening in Charlottesville's Emancipation Park, which had been the scene of the white nationalist rally and counter-protests on Saturday.
The driver of the Dodge Challenger that plowed into the crowd was alleged to be James Fields, a 20-year-old man from Maumee, Ohio. Police arrested him and lhe was charged with second-degree murder, and other crimes connected related to the hit-and-run.
The Daily News ran a photo of the man it identified as the suspect that it said it had taken earlier in a group of white men holding black-and-white shields emblazoned with logo of Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi hate group.
Two others were killed as a result of the violence on Saturday. A Virginia State Police helicopter that was assisting those despatched to bring the violence on the ground under control crashed near a golf course and burst into flames.
The pilot, Lt H Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Virginia, and Berke MM Bates, 40, a trooper-pilot of Quinton, Virginia., died at the scene.