For Those Injured In Charlottesville, Pain And Healing After A 'Very Long Year'
The indelible images of last August in Charlottesville include torches, Nazi regalia, and street brawls. But perhaps none is seared so deeply into memory as that of a grey Dodge Challenger hurtling toward a crowd of pedestrians. For some survivors, however, there's much more than memory. There are lingering physical as well as emotional wounds, but an ongoing interest in opposing bigotry. For Virginia Currents, Hawes Spencer has more.
Last summer, twenty-eight-year-old Richmond resident Al Bowie was looking forward to a new job as a bagel baker and to taking a burlesque dance class.
Al Bowie: And now I'm not able to dance at all.
On August 12th, Al was in Charlottesville with a crowd of counter-protesters and feeling celebratory because the white nationalist rally was ordered to disperse. They merged with another group, and in a crowded street didn’t know which way to go.
Al Bowie: And then people started chanting, 'Go left,' and that's when the march started going up Fourth Street.
Within moments, one person would be dead and another 35 injured. Al was standing on the sidewalk.
Al Bowie: And I saw out of my peripheral vision the car go past me; I was turning when I heard the sound of the crash.
Al began running toward the stopped car.
Al Bowie: It didn't even occur to me that it could be intentional. I just thought it was a horrible accident.
But it was James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old alleged Nazi sympathizer from Ohio.
Al Bowie: I got about two, three feet away from the bumper, and he put it in reverse.
Video shows Al catapulted into a parked pickup truck.
Al Bowie: That was the impact that broke my pelvis. I lost consciousness when I impacted.
Beyond the shattered pelvis and eye socket, Al Bowie would eventually receive a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. But there were bright spots, such as meeting other victims-- including a 38-year-old Charlottesvillian whose right leg was run over.
Al Bowie: Star is a superhero; she's out there in her wheelchair doing activism in the streets.
Star Peterson of Charlottesville regularly attends city council meetings and protests. Her injuries aren’t hampering her activism.
Star Peterson: It's slow; I don't like being slow. I miss just being able to hop up the stairs, or move from point A to point B or carry things in my hands.
Star has had multiple surgeries and now alternates between a wheelchair and crutches. I asked her what she sees when she looks at the deep, foot-long scars on her leg.
Star Peterson: I see a very long year.
She says doctors haven't always been able to alleviate her pain. This is a friend, Emery Myer:
Emery Myer: People have been suffering with this for a year now, and it doesn't just go away. It's not just a one-day thing.
Another who aches for the survivors is Susan Bro.
Susan Bro: Some people will never fully recover from what they've experienced, and my heart goes out to them.
Bro is the mother of Heather Heyer, who died on Fourth Street. She channels her grief into something positive through the Heather Heyer Foundation which provides scholarships to budding activists.
Susan Bro: I'm way behind in my work on that because frankly sometimes the grief incapacitates me. But I generally keep the grief at home. My husband can tell you there are days I am just not able to function.
After the driver of the Challenger was indicted on federal hate crime charges, Bro spoke again about the survivors:
Susan Bro: I think a lot of them really need some justice and some vindication for what they were doing. And to acknowledge that a hate crime occurred acknowledges their pain, acknowledges what they've suffered.
And one year later, she tries not to dwell on her own trauma.
Susan Bro: I do miss my daughter a lot. But you move forward. You can't live in grief forever.
And Bro is moving forward. She says there’s a lot of racial justice work yet to be done. For Virginia Currents, I’m Hawes Spencer, WCVE News.