Charlottesville community, families of Aug. 2017 victims mark three years since tragedy

Charlottesville community, families of Aug. 2017 victims mark three years since tragedy
Charlottesville reflects on Aug. 12 (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - August 12, 2017, is a date deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of many people in Charlottesville and all across the state.

In the past three years, the Charlottesville community and the families of that day’s victims have done a lot of healing. But that healing is still far from over.

“The anniversary of the day they died, birthdays, holidays, Mother’s Day – those are all tough days,” said Susan Bro, the mother of slain activist Heather Heyer.

August 12, 2020 marks three years since Heyer was killed in a car attack while protesting white supremacy in Charlottesville.

Now, three years later, community activists are still fighting that same fight, while paying tribute to Heather. Wednesday, they placed flowers near the scene of Heyer’s death and gathered in Market Street Park.

For Bro, she has dedicated her life to her daughter’s cause. She started the Heather Heyer Foundation - awarding $22,000 in scholarship money to young, non-violent activists and providing a platform for social justice.

“I’d like to see more uplifting of other voices, particularly Black voices, I feel like the movement has so often centered around Heather that it looks like a white movement and a white savior complex is happening, and that’s not our intent, at all,” said Bro.

Over the past three years, Bro believes people are more aware of overt white supremacy.

“What we’re still struggling to accept and acknowledge, as people, is our own complicity in that and covert, systemic racism,” said Bro.

Along with Heather, two other people died on that fateful day in 2017: Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates. Their State Police helicopter crashed in neighboring Albemarle County after a day of surveilling violence in the city.

“Berke was doing what he was called to do and we couldn’t be more proud of him,” said Craig Bates, Berke’s brother.

For Craig, three years without seeing Berke is far too long, and an eternity is too short to fill the hole left in his heart.

“Time heals all wounds, well it’s coming up on three years and it’s not healed it for myself, and my parents, and my wife, and my kids,” reflected Craig.

But for Craig, there is one comfort: “In that final day, Berke was doing the two things that meant the most to him: he was helping people and he was flying.”

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