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Tears and tributes at Virginia memorial for Heather Heyer

Hundreds of purple-clad residents have packed a historic American theatre to remember the 32-year-old woman killed when a suspected white nationalist crashed his car into anti-racist demonstrators.

Heather Heyer, a paralegal whom colleagues said was dedicated to social justice, was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, after clashes on Saturday between white nationalists attending a “Unite the Right” gathering and counter-protesters.

“We are absolutely in awe at this outpouring of affection,” Elwood Shrader, Heyer’s grandfather, told the service at the city’s 1930s era Paramount Theater, near where she died. “She wanted respect for everybody. In our family, all lives matter.”

In the crowd were Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, US Senator Tim Kane and Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer. Many of those attending wore purple, Heyer’s favourite colour, at the request of her family.

“I came here today and I was overwhelmed by the rainbow of colours in this room,” said Heyer’s father, Mark Heyer, his voice cracking with emotion. “That’s how Heather was … for that, I am truly proud of my daughter.”

Fallout from Heyer’s death and the street fights among protesters has become President Donald Trump’s biggest domestic challenge. Trump was assailed from across the political spectrum over his initial response blaming “many sides” for the violence.

On Monday, the Republican president bowed to political pressure and denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, but on Tuesday he again inflamed tensions by insisting counter-protesters were also to blame. In a tweet on Wednesday morning, in a first mention, Trump described Heyer as “beautiful and incredible … a truly special young woman. She will be long remembered by all!”

Residents of the usually quiet, liberal-leaning Virginia city were horrified by the weekend violence they said was brought by outsiders. Amid concerns trouble could erupt outside Wednesday’s memorial, a small group of anti-racist protesters wearing pink helmets and carrying baseball bats and purple shields stood quietly near the theatre. One of the group, who declined to be identified, said they brought weapons to defend themselves in case the white supremacists returned.

“The cops didn’t protect us on Saturday and we don’t trust them to do so today,” the group member said. Also outside the theatre, artist Sam Welty was chalking a large portrait of Heyer on a memorial wall where many tributes to the slain woman have been written. “The way she lost her life, doing what she did, really stood for Charlottesville. It makes me wish that I knew her,” said Welty, 42. (AP)

Photo credits: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (2), Andrew Shurtleff/Getty Images, Evan Vucci/AP (2)

Read:  At service for Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer, a call for ‘righteous action’  »

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