After sentencing hearing for Charlottesville car attacker, mother of victim Heather Heyer says: 'You see this kind of hatred being stoked and fed'

James Fields was recently convicted of first-degree murder.

December 27, 2018, 5:53 AM

Heather Heyer, 32, was killed last year by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, during the “Unite the Right” rally. That man, James Alex Fields Jr., has recently been found guilty of her murder. Heyer’s mother Susan Bro is now sharing her experience, and speaking out against hatred in America.

During Fields’ trial, Bro told "Start Here" that she couldn’t sleep.

“Your mind just keeps racing, you know? You keep replaying things you've heard in court,” she said.

On Aug. 12, 2017, white supremacists converged on the town of Charlottesville, where they were met with thousands of peaceful counter protesters.

People observe a moment of silence during the memorial service for Heather Heyer outside the Paramount Theater, Aug. 16, 2017, in Charlottesville, Va.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

James Alex Fields Jr., 20, traveled from Ohio to attend the rally, and drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Heyer and injuring more than a dozen other people.

Fields was found guilty of first-degree murder and eight other charges relating to injuring other people, and one charge related to fleeing the scene.

Bro went to court to testify at Fields’ sentencing hearing, which she told “Start Here” was “pretty rough.”

“I knew a lot about what happened that day but I heard a lot of things in court I had not heard before, and I had deliberately not read the medical examiner's report,” Bro said.

However, she said she needed to be there.

“I mean, this is your child's death. Where else are you going to hear the actual information? And I needed to know. But I would also be there just to see justice done,” she said.

Bro read a statement at the hearing rather than speaking freely, explaining to “Start Here” that she “had to write this one out ... it's hard to read because I kept tearing up.”

In the statement, she spoke about how Heyer’s brother said “the world is a darker place” and that her death is “a loss to her entire family.”

She added, “I was not trying to make a statement for the world. This was how we and our family felt about losing Heather.”

The jury recommended Fields spend life in prison, plus an additional 419 years behind bars.

Bro’s first reaction was that “justice was served.”

“I was able to sleep that night for the first time,” she said.

While Bro added it was a “relief,” she noted “It’s not over ... the formal sentencing doesn't come for another three months or so ... this is step one of many steps to go take.”

Bro and the rest of Heyer’s family dealt with the long emotional ordeal of Fields’ trial, they are also still working through their grief.

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Va., July 31, 2018.
Brian Snyder/Reuters, FILE

“We're just trying to get through the holidays,” Bro said. “We miss her. We're also not quite reeling from shock like we were last year. So as all families do, we survive and we continue to hold our loved ones in our thoughts. But we also move ahead.”

She said that the family isn’t involved in their activism as a unit because they “live and breathe it so much the rest of the time.”

Since Heyer’s death, Bro has been outspoken about hate in America. She told “Start Here” she could see the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting coming from “a mile away because you see this kind of hatred being stoked and fed.”

“You're going to have more murders if we don't get the white supremacy, the dog whistling ... to stop,” she said. “I don't have the answers for how to combat all this, but I can see it unfolding in front of me as I think many Americans can't.”

She added that one of the problems is “a lot more people [are] giving a lot more lip service.”

PHOTO: A counterprotester holds a photo of Heather Heyer on Boston Common at a "Free Speech" rally organized by conservative activists, Aug. 19, 2017, in Boston.
A counterprotester holds a photo of Heather Heyer on Boston Common at a "Free Speech" rally organized by conservative activists, Aug. 19, 2017, in Boston. Heyer was killed last Saturday when a car, allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr., that plowed into a group of people during protests in Charlottesville, Va.
Michael Dwyer/AP, FILE

“I feel like I have talked and talked and talked until I'm blue in the face but I'm not seeing as many changes as I would like to see. I think one of my themes ongoing is in addition to hash tag we move ahead, is less lip service, more direct action,” she said.

When asked what motivates her to keep moving forward, Bro had a simple response: “I’m mad.”

“I want to see more people motivated. I want to see more people involved. ... People often think that activism has to be standing up with signs and yelling and protesting -- and if that's your thing, you know who am I to say? But there are many forms of activism and are based on the word ‘act.’ But let's get busy let's make things happen,” she said.

“There's a lot to do in the world,” she added. “We really need everybody to step up to the plate, make the world a better place for everyone. I like to say ‘When any one of us is marginalized, we are all marginalized.’”

This report was featured in the Dec. 27, 2018, episode of ABC News' daily news podcast, "Start Here."

"Start Here" is the flagship daily news podcast from ABC News -- a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, or the ABC News app. On Amazon Echo, ask Alexa to "Play 'Start Here'" or add the "Start Here" skill to your Flash Briefing. Follow @StartHereABC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for exclusive content, show updates and more.

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