Thousands gather for poignant candlelit vigil in response to Charlottesville violence

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Thousands of peaceful demonstrators gathered for a poignant candlelit vigil to pay tribute to a woman killed during violent clashes at a white supremacist rally in the US.

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and social justice activist, died after a suspected white nationalist crashed his car into protesters who were staging a peaceful counter-demonstration in Charlottesville in the state of Virginia last Saturday. 

Her friends, family, colleagues and well-wishers, who were dressed in purple and carrying lit candles and glowsticks, took part in the vigil at the Rotunda at the University of Virginia campus on Wednesday night to remember her. 

Speaking to a crowd gathered inside Charlottesville city’s Paramount Theatre for a memorial earlier in the day, her mother Susan Bro said: “They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what? You just magnified her.”

Peaceful protesters gather in a vigil in solemn scenes after violence in Charlottesville (Getty)

Ms Bro told the audience that her daughter’s favourite Facebook post was “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

“She paid attention. And she made a lot of us pay attention,” Ms Bro said. “I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy.”

The crowd later sang the hymn “Amazing Grace”. 

Hundreds of people gathered on the University of Virginia campus for the vigil (AP)

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, US Senator Tim Kane and Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer were gathered at the memorial. 

Many of those in attendance at the memorial and the candlelit vigil wore purple, Ms Heyer’s favourite colour, at the request of her family.

The theatre’s marquee outside read: “Heather Heyer, gone but not forgotten.”

Heather Heyer’s mother Susan Bro (AP)

Wearing a violet polo shirt, his voice breaking with emotion, Ms Heyer’s father, Mark Heyer, told the gathering how truly proud he was of his daughter.

“I came here today and I was overwhelmed by the rainbow of colours in this room,” he said. “That’s how Heather was.”

‘She died doing what was right’: Heather Heyer

Hundreds of people later gathered outside on the university campus in Charlottesville with lit candles to sing songs to remember Ms Heyer.

Peaceful demonstrators marched slowly through the campus before singing spiritual songs and observing a moment of silence. 

The vigil was not publicised on social media and instead grew from word of mouth, phone calls and text messages.

Someone recited Maya Angelou’s powem “I Will Rise” and the crowd also sang “This Little Light of Mine.”

Kara Maley, an employee of the university’s department of family medicine told CNN: “The energy here is beautiful.

“I’m here to support this community in healing and really give back the love that I know exists here.”

The vigil was a peaceful response to far-right violence in Charlottesville which left an anti-facist protester dead (AP)

Ms Heyer was killed after clashes between white nationalists attending a “Unite the Right” gathering and counter-protesters in the city on Saturday. Thirty-four other people were injured.

James Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man, has been charged with her murder. Two police officers also died when the helicopter they were using to monitor the protest crashed just outside Charlottesville.

The far-right violence in Charlottesville sparked global condemnation and led to criticism of US president Donald Trump over his response.

The “Unite the Right” rally was being staged against plans to remove a statue of a pro-slavery US Civil War general in Charlottesville. 

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