Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a man known to be a Nazi sympathizer drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally in August. Now, months after her tragic death, Susan Bro, Heyer's mother, says she must keep her grave site a secret to protect it from white supremacists.
Bro told the Daily Beast of her painful struggle to honor the memory of her daughter's life while trying to ensure that Heyer's grave was kept from vandalism. "It’s a symptom of hate in society that you should have to protect your child’s grave, for Pete’s sake,” Bro said.
Unfortunately, anyone who has followed the rise of the extremists within the alt-right movement will likely find Bro's decision to closely guard the knowledge of the location of her daughter's grave site a prudent choice. White supremacists threatened to attend Heyer's funeral, and the organizer of the "Unite the Right" rally called her names.
And Bro does not think President Trump is blameless in escalating the situation. Bro said Trump "definitely pushes forward a hateful agenda," despite that view causing her tensions within her immediate circle. (Bro says many of her family members support Trump.)
Heyer's story was back in the news Thursday, as James Alex Fields Jr., the man who allegedly drove the car that killed Heyer, faced a preliminary hearing. At the hearing, Fields faced indictment for first-degree murder, a change from the original second-degree murder charge filed against him.
Bro was present for Fields' hearing, and according to a local NBC affiliate, she gave a thumbs-up to the camera crew when leaving the courthouse. When asked if she held Fields responsible for her daughter's death, Bro replied, "Absolutely."
Bro became the focus of national attention when the grieving mother spoke movingly at Heyer's memorial service. Despite facing such an enormous loss, Bro spoke of celebrating Heyer's life and giving a purpose to her tragic death.
"They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what, you just magnified her," Bro said during the service.
Bro is also questioning what role inadequate police protection played in the death of Heyer. An independent review commissioned by Charlottessville leveled sharp criticism at local police and local authorities over how events turned deadly in August. Bro noted the single school resource officer sent to protect the counter-protesters "definitely had reason to fear for her safety."
When asked if white supremacy and hatred played a role in her Heyer's death, Bro told the Daily Beast "of course." But Bro made it clear Heyer did not go to the counter-protest expecting to lose her life.
"I mean she knew that was a possibility, but no one thinks they will be killed for standing up for their beliefs. She didn’t go there to be a martyr," Bro said.
Bro took Trump to task over his comments following the violence in Charlottesville, in which he claimed there were "very fine people" on both sides.
“You can’t say there were good people coming into town with their fists taped prepared to draw blood and do harm. That’s not good people," Bro stated. She also opined that her daughter is not unique in being disrespected by the president. "He disrespects Native Americans, black people, history, everything. He has no respect for anybody."
Since Bro became a public figure, she has also been targeted by white supremacists, who harass her by insulting her daughter. They tell Bro that Heyer deserved her death, that she was fat, and that a CPR machine actually killed her, not Fields' car. Bro has also received death threats. Some of her family was unable to attend Heyer's funeral because of the security risk.
Bro's life is dedicated to civil rights work now, after the media spotlight gave her a voice for making change. "My mind is wrapped in this now,” Heyer told the Daily Beast.