As Virginians grappled Sunday with the deadly aftermath of a white nationalist protest, state leaders didn’t preach about unity from their offices or on TV – they went to a historically black church in Charlottesville.
“We come to you this morning to reassure you that the Commonwealth of Virginia and all of us that are in this together will not and do not condone white supremacists that brought their hatred and bigotry to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam told Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church, to roaring applause. “That’s not what we’re about. So, I am here this morning, as your lieutenant governor and also as a doctor, to start the healing process.”
Less than 24 hours had passed since a driver plowed into demonstrators protesting against white nationalists in Charlottesville.
Heather Heyer, 32, was killed. Two Virginia State troopers monitoring Saturday’s protests from the sky, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, were killed when their helicopter crashed.
At one point, Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked the congregation for a moment of silence to honor Heyer and the troopers, “who lost their lives yesterday doing what they loved doing – fighting for freedom.”
“I feel right at home here at the Mt. Zion church,” the governor said. “I was invited today to go on a lot of TV shows. I turned them all down, because I needed to be where I should be, here in this beautiful church here today.”
The racial divides that fueled Saturday’s violence were replaced by unity Sunday as one white elected official after another received standing ovations from the black congregation at Mt. Zion.
“We will get through this stronger than we were yesterday,” Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer told the crowd. “Our democracy has been through a lot. We’ve been through segregation and Jim Crow. We’ve been through McCarthyism. And, we will get through this challenge. And, we’re going to do it together.”
Here’s the latest on what happened, the victims, the suspect and the investigation:
- Counterprotesters met white nationalists and other right-wing groups at the site of Saturday’s “Unite the Right” event hours before the rally was set to start.
- Clashes broke out, and police began to disperse crowds.
- Local officials declared the rally an “unlawful assembly,” and the governor declared a state of emergency.
- About two hours later, a gray Dodge Challenger rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters walking down a street in downtown Charlottesville.
- The driver slammed the car in reverse and fled the scene backward. The suspected driver was arrested later that afternoon.
- Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed in the car crash.
- Another 19 people were wounded, including five people still in critical condition Sunday, a spokeswoman for the University of Virginia Medical Center said.
- Two Virginia State Patrol troopers died when a helicopter crashed in a wooded area near Charlottesville after monitoring Saturday’s events. The pilot, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, who would have turned 41 on Sunday, were killed. Authorities are investigating the cause of the crash.
- The driver, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, faces charges of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death, said Superintendent Martin Kumer of the Albermarle-Charlottesville County Regional Jail.
- Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, told Toledo Blade her son told her last week he was going to an “alt-right” rally, but she said she was not involved in his political views. CNN’s attempts to reach Bloom were unsuccessful.
- Three other men were arrested Saturday. One of them faces a charge of carrying a concealed handgun an another is charged disorderly conduct. The third man was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery.
- The Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have launched a civil rights investigation into the deadly crash.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions said US Attorney Rick Mountcastle is leading the investigation.
- “The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated,” Sessions said in a statement. “Justice will prevail.”
- President Donald Trump denounced what he called “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
- Critics quickly lambasted the president for drawing what they called a false equivalency. Many people, both Democrats and Republicans, also criticized the president for not explicitly denouncing white supremacists.
- “We need to call it out for what it is,” McAuliffe said Sunday. “To the white supremacists and the neo-Nazis that came to our beautiful state yesterday, there is no place for you here in Charlottesville. There is no place for you in Virginia. And, there is no place for you in the United States of America.”
- But, the organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally, Jason Kessler, issued a statement blaming the violence on law enforcement and local officials.
- “The blame for today’s (Saturday’s) violence lies primarily with Charlottesville government officials and the police officers who failed to maintain law and order, protect the First Amendment rights of rally participants and provide for their safety,” Kessler said.