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Loved Ones Of Charlottesville Victim Heather Heyer Cope With Their Loss Together

By Jud Esty-Kendall | NPR
Friday, August 10, 2018

It's been nearly one year since Susan Bro lost her daughter to the violence that erupted at last summer's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Bro's daughter, Heather Heyer, was a 32-year-old paralegal who was in Charlottesville to push back against the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists gathered in the city. She was killed when a car rammed into the crowd of counter-protesters she was marching with as they crossed the road at 4th and Market streets downtown. Nineteen others were injured.

In a StoryCorps conversation last month, Bro, 61, remembers her daughter with Heather's former supervisor, Alfred Wilson, 51.

Heyer was more than an employee to Wilson. They were friends, and she was close with Wilson's family as well. Wilson recalls the day he first met Heyer — when she walked into his office for a job interview. "Heather was very honest with me and told me, 'I don't type. I've never worked in an office. All I've done all my life is bartend or waitress.'"

He took a chance on hiring her anyway. He saw something invaluable in Heyer.

"She could communicate with anyone," Wilson says. "And, you know, I'm a black male and I might walk out to meet a client and Heather would notice that sometimes they didn't shake my hand, and that would just infuriate her."

Because Heyer grew up in a small, mainly white town outside Charlottesville, Wilson says he wondered, "Where does she get this from?"

It runs in the family, Bro says. "She comes from a long line of stubborn people — stubborn and opinionated, and not afraid to say so."

It was Heyer's conviction to stand up for what she thought was right that led her to protest the white nationalist rally last August.

On the day of the rally, Wilson says, Bro called him from the hospital at about two in the afternoon. "I remember my wife told me, 'Oh my God, Alfred. Do you see what happened on the TV?'"

Alfred's wife had just seen footage of the car driving into the crowd of counterprotesters.

"She didn't know that I was on the phone talking to you," he tells Bro. "I remember thinking, 'She's going to tell me that Heather's hurt.' But you didn't tell me that."

"And then everything was so quiet, like somebody had shut the volume control off on the world," Wilson recalls.

Heyer's death left behind a void for Wilson, one that's been particularly glaring during important life events. "In May, I was gonna have two kids graduating at the same time, and all I could think was I wanted her to be there," he says. "But one of the plus sides," he tells Bro, "was when you showed up to the graduation party."

"Your family was very welcoming," Bro says, "but I kept thinking, Heather's the one that should be here."

In the months after Heyer's death, Bro and Wilson worked together to set up a nonprofit foundation in Heyer's name. As NPR reported Thursday, the Heather Heyer Foundation has awarded three scholarships of $1,000 each and five scholarships in conjunction with another foundation for people pursuing a career in social change.

Recently, Bro's been busy talking to reporters who have come to Charlottesville for Sunday's anniversary of the "Unite the Right" rally.

"For me, grief is like standing in the shallows of the ocean, knee-deep in the water," Bro says. "Every so often a wave will wash over. And so I allow myself to cry and be really sad while that wave is there."

"But I know that it will go away, and that's what gets me through."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall and Mitra Bonshahi.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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