A former co-worker of Heather Heyer‘s recounted to PEOPLE the tragic events of Aug. 12, when Heyer was killed by a driver who rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters demonstrating against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Marissa Blair and her fiancé, Marcus Martin, along with Heyer and another friend, came to Charlottesville to protest neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan members and other white supremacists who had gathered. The four chanted “Racists go home” with other counter-protesters, but they kept their distance from the white supremacists, many of whom were armed with automatic weapons.
“We were scared to be out there but we weren’t going to let them bully us,” recalls Blair, 27. “We walked around the entire day. Heather was happy — she was fighting for what we believed in.”
A little after 1 p.m., the 200 or so counter-protesters in their group reached an intersection and decided to turn left.
“All of a sudden you hear tires screeching and you look up, and it happened in a split of a second,” says Blair. “You think someone’s fighting and you see bodies flying.”
A 2010 gray Dodge Challenger sped into the crowd and then reversed. The driver, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, who according to his high school teacher held pro-Nazi views as a student, was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death. Fields remains in custody without bond following an initial court appearance.
As the car sped into the crowd, Martin, Blair’s fiancé, pushed her out of the way at the last instant, allowing her to walk away with just a scraped arm and a bruise on her leg. But Blair sustained a broken tibia and a fractured ankle, and attended Heyer’s memorial service in a wheelchair.
“It was like when we turned that street, it was like he was waiting for us. When we went down that road it was like, ‘Boom,’ ” says Blair, a paralegal in Charlottesville. “Was someone on the phone with him? How did that happen in that moment?”
Blair adds, “Marcus wants to ask him, ‘What was your motive behind this?’ I feel disgust towards him.”
Blair is haunted by photos of the scene, captured by a local reporter. She sees her friends looking at the car, and she sees herself in the images.
“We’ve been trying to figure out why we are still alive,” says Blair. “How are we still here?”
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Blair was in the hospital with Heyer’s mom, Susan Bro, when a detective told her that Heyer had died. She admires Bro’s strength, and she was moved by her rebuke of white supremacists at Heyer’s memorial, when Bro said, “They tried to kill my child to shut her up. But guess what? You just magnified her.”
Blair says, “I read an article that said Heather Heyer was the alt-right’s worst nightmare, and that is the only thing that is giving us solace: that her message is still living.”
On Friday, Bro said on Good Morning America that she won’t meet with President Donald Trump after he suggested a moral equivalence between the Nazis, and white supremacists in Charlottesville and those protesting them.
“I hate that Heather had to die,” says Blair, “and I keep thinking of Heather’s mom’s words.”
Blair and Heyer worked together as paralegals at Miller Law Firm in Charlottesville. They bonded through their mutual love of animals. Just days before Heyer was killed, Blair, who has a law degree and is awaiting the results of her bar exam, left the firm to take another paralegal job.
Martin, 26, a landscaper, is expected to be unable to work for up to a year. A GoFundMe page created by a friend to help with his loss of income has raised over $61,000.
“I cannot thank everyone enough for the love, support and condolences,” Martin wrote on the page. “I am in a lot of pain and mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, but I am alive. We are thankful I will heal. Please keep Heather’s family and other victims in your thoughts and prayers. She will be missed.”
Blair and Martin had put off their wedding due to financial constraints. But since the attack, they have received offers from people they don’t even know to pay for the event, the photography and her dress.
“It feels like blood money,'” says Blair. “But Heather would be like, ‘You would be stupid if you don’t do it,’ and we are going to do it next year, as a remembrance and to celebrate her.”
The theme color of the wedding will be purple, which was Heather’s favorite color.