When Ohio resident Bill Burke came to protest Charlottesville’s white nationalist Unite the Right rally, he was expecting a peaceful assembly. Instead, he got plowed into by a 20-year-old driving a Dodge Challenger.
“I can remember the feeling of people hitting up against me,” he says in an email. “I’m not sure if the car hit me too or not, it’s hard to say. Then I remember a woman saying I had to hold my head together.”
Burke says the person assisting him grabbed his arm and pushed his hand against his head. He could feel blood pouring from his open wounds.
“People kept telling me to stay awake and look at them, and I just wanted to close my eyes and rest,” he says. He could feel a person lying next to him. He realized, at some point, that medics were doing CPR on her.
“I could feel every time they did a chest compression because we were so close,” Burke says. “I used to be an EMT and I’ve seen some bad stuff, but not being able to do anything for her was the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had.”
He didn’t realize until later that the woman lying next to him was Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed during the attack.
Burke is one of the 19 victims injured in what many have called an act of domestic terrorism. He suffered two deep head lacerations that required about a dozen staples and many stitches. He has many abrasions and limited mobility because he’s still experiencing a lot pain on his left side. He also has concussion symptoms and uses a cane when walking more than a few feet.
Regardless, Burke says, “I am doing really well.”
Earlier this summer, Burke, who works for the Athens County Foster Parent Association, attended an International Socialist Organization conference in Chicago, where he says a Charlottesville woman was pleading for solidarity and support, “and was scared for the lives of her family and friends and herself.” This is when he felt called to protest the rally. He came alone from Hockingport, Ohio.
He could see the Western heritage defenders who descended on Charlottesville riding around the city in trucks, holding guns, throwing bottles and yelling, he says.
“We were chanting loudly, but I didn’t see any fighting or throwing stuff,” he says about his own group. “We were just feeling the excitement of being together and supporting each other. Then I remember hearing some screaming, and I heard a car engine revving up, like someone was punching the accelerator.”
That person also came from Ohio. Maumee resident James Alex Fields Jr., faces charges of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failing to stop.
Burke, now home in Hockingport, turned 40 August 13 while in the hospital.
When asked if he regrets his trip to Charlottesville, Burke says, “No, not in the least bit. I think it’s important to speak out against hate.” And he has a message for Fields, the driver of the Challenger who injured him. “I feel sad that you have so much hate at such a young age. Our society has failed you.”