Charlottesville Anniversary: Heather Heyer's Mother Picks Up Her Baton "They tried to kill my child to shut her up," Susan Bro told mourners last August. "Well, guess what? You just magnified her!"

Charlottesville Victim Heather Heyer's Mother Picks Up Her Baton

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This Sunday is going to mark one year since a car rammed into counterprotesters during a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Dozens of people were injured. Heather Heyer was killed. And this is what her mother promised at her funeral.


SUSAN BRO: They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what. You just magnified her.


GREENE: Susan Bro is on a mission now, and NPR's Debbie Elliott has her story.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The Heather Heyer Foundation is in a cozy office in the law firm where she worked as a paralegal. Susan Bro sits at a desk below a sign with her daughter's favorite motto.

BRO: If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. And I think that's what we have with Heather's legacy is a call to action.

ELLIOTT: Portraits of Heather hang on the walls, and there's a collection of posthumous civil rights awards. Bro resists the notion that her daughter is some sort of symbol. She didn't make speeches or lead rallies, Bro says, but tried to convince those around her to care more about inequality and social justice issues. Bro has taken up her cause.

BRO: Not only will I speak and speak loudly and often, but I'm going to make sure that other people speak. I have likened that many times to a baton race. So they knocked the baton out of her hand. Well, I picked it up. And I'm not only running with that baton, but I'm passing off little batons to as many people as I can.

ELLIOTT: Money poured in after Heather was killed. Bro teamed with Heather's co-worker Alfred Wilson to form a nonprofit foundation in Heather's name. It provides scholarships to students who promise to pursue positive nonviolent social change.

BRO: I'm sort of trying to replace Heather.

ELLIOTT: Susan Bro's shoulder-length gray hair is pulled back in a bun. Her eyes are bloodshot. She's tired but is in constant motion taking calls to resolve Heather's estate, hosting fundraisers and talking to all the reporters who've come to Charlottesville for the anniversary. It's a struggle.

BRO: Part of me wishes it was all just a bad dream, that the country wasn't this divided, that we - that black lives really have been treated as if they matter, that Heather was here. Just sometimes I long for the old life.

ELLIOTT: She's also dealing with the justice system, attending all the court hearings for the man accused of killing Heather and injuring dozens of other counterprotesters. The downtown block where it happened has been renamed Heather Heyer Way.

BRO: That's a scene of unspeakable horror for so many people who are still living with injuries, who are still struggling to survive. So, yes, I lost my child there. A lot of other people lost their lives in a very different way there.

ELLIOTT: Who do you blame?

BRO: All of us for allowing the hate to build up in the first place.

ELLIOTT: She says the events last year hit a nerve in the community, exposing racial tensions.

BRO: The black community and the people of color in Charlottesville have been battling this for many years. But a white girl dies, and suddenly, everybody goes, oh, my God, we've got a problem. And the illusion of Charlottesville was blown apart. And that's been hard for a lot of people to deal with.

ELLIOTT: Downtown, a makeshift memorial to Heather remains.

BRO: I see even more flowers today than there were yesterday.

ELLIOTT: Bro stops by here often as a way to connect with Heather. On yesterday's visit, there's a dispute across the street between a black woman and a white police officer about her illegally parked car.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He says, well, I'm going to write you a ticket 'cause you don't want to walk back there.

ELLIOTT: When the officer leaves, Bro sees that the woman is upset.

BRO: Bless her heart. I want to say something to her.

ELLIOTT: She approaches the driver's window.

BRO: Can I give you a hug? You're OK. You're OK. We were bearing witness. We were bearing witness. You're OK. You're OK, sweetheart.

ELLIOTT: It's an example of how people are on edge with the uncertainty of what might happen during this weekend's memorial events. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Charlottesville, Va.


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