Heather Heyer's mother reflects on life after Charlottesville's Unite the Right rally
Charlottesville is still healing six months later from wounds caused by August’s Unite the Right rally.
While the city is coming to grips with its new identity, so is the mother who suffered the most significant loss.
10 News spent a day with Susan Bro, Heather Heyer's mother.
The Salem native reflected on that tragic August day and how her life has completely changed since.
“Had no idea it was going to be an absolute war zone in Charlottesville,” Bro said.
On the morning of Aug. 11th, 2017, Bro was 45 minutes north of Charlottesville and all its escalating chaos, running some weekend errands with a friend.
“I was a grandma looking forward to retirement, thinking about my grandkids, canning, freezing, crocheting, knitting, had bought a little fabric to sew some T-shirts on Saturday morning,” she said.
That fabric never saw the first needle, though.
In just hours, tragedy would pierce this mother's heart and life would become unrecognizable.
Bro's daughter, Heather Heyer, died after a car plowed into a crowd of marchers.
The nightmare started with a phone call from one of Heather's friends saying, she had been hit by the car, and a call from Heather's brother who ,was watching the scene unfold on television.
“He saw the car plow into the crowd, so he called her phone. A stranger answered her phone, said they didn't know who Heather was, but they found this phone on the sidewalk. So he called me. I said, I'm on my way. I don't know what's happened, but she must be unconscious or dead, because she would be able to tell them how to get a hold of me if she was okay.”
Bro rushed to the University of Virginia Medical Center, where doctors pronounced Heather dead.
“I just remember putting my head down and sobbing. It seemed like the ungodliest wails came out of me,” she said.
Her youngest child was gone at the age of 32.
“It's been kind of surreal. It's been like there's a deep sadness that stays in me, but I kind of block it off so I can get through life. The foundation gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Bro said.
Just when she expected life to slow down so that she could enjoy her grandchildren, Bro now has a full-time job, running a foundation named after her daughter.
In a small office, she carries on Heather's legacy as she responds to speaking requests while building scholarship and youth empowerment programs.
The day Heather died, she was marching in support of racial and social justice.
Her mother is now vocal on that subject.
Like her daughter, Bro is only armed with her voice.
“Her weapon was talking. She wanted to talk to people and try to change their hearts, change their minds," Bro said of Heather.
In a video you can see Heather speaking with a member of the so called "alt-right," asking her to explain herself.
The video was taken in a parking lot near the downtown mall, which later became the scene of the crime.
“I still cry. I don't come here very often, let's put it that way,” said Bro.
Bro has only visited what is now named Heather Heyer Way a handful of times in the past six months.
When she does, she sorts through the new mementos dropped off at what's become a public memorial.
Some things she takes home. Others, she shares with the community.
“I have a lot of that stuff in my living room. I can't bear to put it away. I went to put it away the other day and I started sobbing and I said, 'I can't put her in storage yet.'”
As uncertain as Bro is of what to do with the little reminders of Heather, she is confident in how Heather should be remembered and honored.
Bro said no to ideas of a national holiday, the renaming of a park and a statue of her daughter.
“It's like everything else. There's my daughter that I knew and then there's this social activist that everybody else feels like they know,” she said. “The heroic thing Heather did was to show up. She wasn't heroic because she was killed. She was a murder victim. She did not go to be martyred. She knew that there was a chance, but there was a chance for anybody that day.”
Six months later, the tears are still fresh and many questions remain as the accused awaits trial.
Bro will likely never forget the moment Heather's life was taken, leaving her family incomplete.
“I was talking to my parents on the phone last night and they said, 'Have you talked to Nick?' and I said, 'Oh yeah, we were talking about so and so and so and so,' and I started to say, 'Oh, I haven't called Heather.' And then I realized, I can't call Heather. I can never call Heather.”
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