CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — U.S. officials on Sunday announced the opening of a civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack that happened during violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia a day earlier.
As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, the Department of Justice and the FBI have opened a joint federal civil rights hate crime investigation. They will not only look at suspect James Alex Fields Jr. who is blamed for killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring numerous others, but also anyone else who may have been involved in planning the attack.
White nationalists on Saturday were protesting the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, when they clashed with counter-protesters who also showed up.
Authorities say Heyer was killed and at least 35 others were injured when Fields, of Ohio, rammed his car into a crowd.
“To realize that somebody possibly just died in front of us, that it was intentional,” witness Jon Ziegler said. “To see the shoes and pools of blood on the ground and the debris, I’m still shaking from it right now just thinking about it.”
As CBS2’s Sanchez reported, drone video from the sky showed that demonstrators never had a chance to act when the car came barreling through.
“I saw the car speeding down the block with a broken windshield; with the front fender that was messed up,” said Hank Newsome.
Newsome came with several members of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. They ran to the crash scene.
“It was carnage. There was blood everywhere. We were running. There was screaming,” he said.
Suspect Fields’ mother, Samantha Bloom, was surprised to hear the news from reporters in Ohio yesterday.
She said she was cat-sitting for her son, who she thought was attending a peaceful “All Bright” rally, instead of “Alt-Right.”
“I didn’t know it was white supremacist,” Bloom told reporters. “I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a supremacist. I mean, he had an African American friend.”
Fields Jr. faces several charges, including second-degree murder.
He’s expected in court on Monday.
Earlier Sunday, the man who organized the rally tried to hold a news conference Sunday, but a crowd of several hundred booed him and forced him away from the lectern.
Jason Kessler is a blogger based in Charlottesville, and as he came out to speak Sunday afternoon near City Hall, he was surrounded by cameras and people. Some people chanted and made noises with drums and other instruments as he tried to speak.
Among the chants: “You’re wearing the wrong hood,” a reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
Kessler mimicked looking at his watch and indicated he’d wait to speak.
A few people approached him, crossing in front of the line of TV cameras. One man pushed Kessler and then a woman tackled him.
Kessler asked state troopers at the scene for help and eventually they escorted him off. State police said troopers approached the area as the crowd got aggressive but made no arrests.
“Her name was Heather, and her blood is on your hands!” one man said running after Kessler. “Her blood is on your hood!”
CBS News producer Christina Ruffini says police surrounded Kessler and pulled him out from amidst the angry crowd almost immediately, but the crowd kept chasing him.
The troopers tried to surround him as people tried to break their line to hit Kessler. Ruffini said the troopers hauled the would-be attackers off quickly and set up a perimeter around him before the press conference started. There were also police snipers on surrounding buildings.
Kessler managed to say a few things to the gathered media as the state troopers shielded him, including accusing the protesters haranguing him of “anti-white hate.”
Also Sunday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe visited two Charlottesville churches and speak to congregants following the clashes.
Lt. Gov.Ralph Northam joined McAuliffe at both Sunday services. McAuliffe and Northam visited Mount Zion First African Baptist Church and Visit First Baptist Church.
In total, three were killed and dozens were injured amid what is believed to be the largest group of white nationalists to come together in a decade. In addition to Heyer’s death, a state police helicopter crashed into the woods near Charlottesville, leaving two troopers on-board dead.
President Donald Trump criticized the violence and called for a return to law and order. But his critics say his racially-tinged rhetoric has exacerbated the nation’s political tensions and emboldened racists.
The mayor of Charlottesville blamed the nation’s intensifying political divisions for the violent clashes between white supremacist groups and counter-protesters that left three dead.
Mayor Michael Signer on Saturday bemoaned the “very sad and regrettable coarseness in our politics.”
On Sunday, Signer called Heyer’s death and the dozens more allegedly injured by Fields Jr. a “terrorist attack with a car used as a weapon.”
He made the comments in an interview Sunday with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Late Sunday, a makeshift memorial was growing at the scene where Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured. A prayer vigil was held at the site Sunday night.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)