CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WNCN) — An Ohio man is in custody after a vehicle plowed into a group of counter-protesters during a white nationalist rally in Virginia on Saturday afternoon, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring more than a dozen people.
Officials now say the deaths of two Virginia State Police officers in a helicopter crash 7 miles southwest of the city have been linked to the rally, though the connection is not yet clear.
Late Saturday night, U.S. officials opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances of the deadly car attack.
The investigation was announced late Saturday by officials of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia and the Richmond field office of the FBI.
In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says U.S. Attorney Rick Mountcastle has begun the investigation and will have the full support of the Justice Department.
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio was identified as the suspect in the car crash, WAVY-TV reported. He is being charged with second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.
Fields is being held in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
Fields’ mother was interviewed by the Associated Presss. Samantha Bloom, of Ohio, confirmed details about her son’s car and his trip to Virginia, saying she received a text from him last week that said he’d gotten some time off from work and was going to a rally.
She said her son hadn’t given her any details about the rally but that she told him “to be careful” and to be peaceful.
Bloom became visibly upset as she learned that dozens of people were injured during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Bloom said she and Fields had just relocated to the Toledo area from Florence, Kentucky, a Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb
A video photographer on the scene of the car crash said the car slammed into people and two other cars before speeding from the scene. Fields was taken into custody by 4 p.m., officials said.
According to an ACLU of Virginia tweet, someone threw a rock at a vehicle, which then turned around and hit people on the sidewalk near Water Street, WCAV-TV reported.
Video from the scene shows several people injured and one person later died according to Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, WAVY-TV reported.
A hospital official says 19 people were injured in the wild incident that was caught on video.
Video of the incident shows a silver Dodge Charger crashing into a car where protesters were marching and then rapidly reversing away.
Michael Nigro, a photojournalist from Brooklyn, told reporters shortly after the incident he heard the screech of tires and saw a gray Charger accelerate toward the group. Several hundred people were peacefully marching through downtown.
Nigro says it was “chaos and mayhem” as bodies flew.
Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, said counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tire screeching sound.” A silver sedan smashed into another car, then backed up, plowing through “a sea of people.”
People scattered, running for safety in different directions, he said.
It happened about two hours after violent clashes broke out between white nationalists, who descended on the town to rally against the city’s plans to remove a statue of the Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee, and others who arrived to protest the racism.
White nationalists were clashing with police and counter-protesters at a demonstration Saturday in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in the city to aid in the local response. He earlier said the Virginia National Guard will be “standing by to respond if needed.”
Some protesters who came for the “Unite the Right” rally were armed and dressed in military-like clothing, while others wore shirts with Nazi symbols and quotes from Adolf Hitler. Another read “diversity is just a genocidal scam.”
The protest turned violent well ahead of the rally’s official noon start time. The city said two people were treated for serious but non-life-threatening emergencies from altercations by 10:30 a.m. Counter-protesters also flooded the area to demonstrate their disdain for the protesters’ message.
Around 1:15 p.m. President Donald Trump issued a statement on Twitter.
“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!” the president wrote.
Police began clearing Emancipation Park around noon, declaring it unsafe, before police officers themselves began to leave the scene. Law enforcement officers in an armored vehicle declared an “unlawful assembly.”
Police deployed tear gas against the crowd shortly before 11:30 a.m.
The rally comes shortly after a large group of torch-bearing white nationalistsFriday night, after a judge issued a ruling allowing Saturday’s protest to move forward.
Charlottesville Police Captain Victor Mitchell said earlier that police expected between 2,000 and 6,000 protesters and counter-demonstrators.
UVA canceled all scheduled events planned for Saturday citing “ongoing public safety concerns,” but announced that the college’s medical center would remain open.
“The University is monitoring the developments in Charlottesville and continues to coordinate with state and local law enforcement,” the school said in a statement.
The cancellation includes athletic events, community discussions, and all academic programming.
Since Thursday, the Unite the Right rally has been involved in a legal battle regarding the place of this protest.
Citing crowd safety concerns, the city of Charlottesville approved a protest permit earlier this week for the event to specifically be held in a different larger park instead of the smaller Emancipation Park where the Lee statue stands.
Rally organizer Jason Kessler, who calls his views “pro-white,” told CBS News that he believed the city’s decision was “unconstitutional” and that the move was discriminatory.
Late Friday night, a U.S. district court judge in Charlottesville agreed. In the ruling, Judge Glen E. Conrad said the city’s “11th-hour decision” to revoke the permit was “based on the content of [Kessler’s] speech rather than other neutral factors.”
Kessler was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute.
Several alt-right members were invited to speak at the rally including white nationalist. Many credit Spencer with popularizing the term “alt-right” as he garnered national media attention after being heard shouting “Hail Trump!” at a white nationalist convention in Washington, D.C., and later, being punched in the face on Inauguration Day while giving an interview.
Teresa Sullivan, UVA’s president, denounced the march in a statement issued Friday.
“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protesters that marched on our Grounds this evening,” she said. “The violence displayed on Grounds is intolerable and is entirely inconsistent with the University’s values.”
Bo Erickson, Justin Carissimo, Kathryn Watson, Paula Reid and Stefan Becket contributed to this report.