Heather D. Heyer died standing up for what she believed in.
Friends described her as a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised who was often moved to tears by the world’s injustices. That sense of conviction led her to join demonstrators protesting a rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
“We were just marching around, spreading love — and then the accident happened,” a friend, Marissa Blair, said. “In a split second you see a car, and you see bodies flying.”
The authorities said Ms. Heyer, 32, was killed when a car driven by a man from Ohio plowed into the crowd.
“Heather was such a sweet soul, and she did not deserve to die,” Ms. Blair said on Sunday.
Others said Ms. Heyer, who lived in Charlottesville, spoke out against inequality and urged co-workers to be active in their community.
“Heather was a very strong woman,” said Alfred A. Wilson, manager of the bankruptcy division at the Miller Law Group in Charlottesville, where Ms. Heyer worked as a paralegal. She stood up against “any type of discrimination,” he said. “That’s just how she’s always been.”
Mr. Wilson said in an interview on Sunday that he found her at her computer crying many times.
“Heather being Heather has seen something on Facebook or read something in the news and realized someone has been mistreated and gets upset,” he said.
A couple of years ago, she was dating someone who became agitated after learning that Mr. Wilson was black and that they were friends.
“She just didn’t like the way he was judging me as a minority male that’s doing well for myself,” Mr. Wilson said, adding that Ms. Heyer stopped seeing the man after that.
She often posted messages on Facebook about equality and love, said Ms. Blair, who recently left the law firm.
“She’s always so passionate and she speaks with so much conviction all the time,” she said.
Mr. Wilson hired Ms. Heyer at the recommendation of a friend. She had a high school diploma but did not have a background in law. Instead, she was working as a bartender and waitress, but he said she had an eye for detail and was “a people person.”
“If you can get people to open up to you, that’s what I need,” he told her. “I’ll teach you everything about the law you need to know.”
She did not stop working as a waitress even after she started at the law firm.
“It’s because of Heather that I started tipping people a lot better,” Ms. Blair said.
Ms. Heyer’s only flaw, Mr. Wilson said with a laugh, was that she liked to sleep late. “I had to change my office work hours just to meet her schedule,” he said.
She worked to improve herself by taking classes and studying.
“If she’s going to do something, she made sure she understood it,” he said. She was so dedicated that during her first two years on the job she did not take any vacations, he said.
Ms. Heyer lived alone with her Chihuahua, Violet, who was named after her favorite color.
For her, activism was about more than just “sitting behind your computer screen,” Ms. Blair said. “You gotta get out in your community and do things.”
Ms. Heyer and her friends were walking together at the protest when a car crashed into the crowd.
Ms. Blair, 27, saw it unfold.
Ms. Blair said her fiancé pushed her out of the way. She had a scrape on her arm and a bruise on her leg.
She began to look for him, and spotted his red baseball cap on the ground, covered in blood.
“It terrified me,” she said.
They two were reunited — he had a broken leg — and taken to a hospital, all the while wondering what happened to Ms. Heyer.
A detective broke the news that Ms. Heyer had been killed.
“I kind of knew and didn’t want to believe it,” she said. “When the cop told me, I cried and sank to my knees.”
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failing to stop at the scene of a crash that resulted in a death, the police said.
Charlottesville, in a statement about Ms. Heyer, said: “This senseless act of violence rips a hole in our collective hearts. While it will never make up for the loss of a member of our community, we will pursue charges against the driver of the vehicle that caused her death and are confident justice will prevail.”
A GoFundMe campaign created to support Ms. Heyer’s family had surpassed $200,000 as of Sunday evening.
“I’ve never had a close friend like this be murdered,” Ms. Blair said. “We thought, ‘What would Heather do?’ Heather would go harder. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to preach love. We’re going to preach equality, and Heather’s death won’t be in vain.”
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