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DoJ, FBI open investigations into Charlottesville violence

By
Andrew V. Pestano
Militia members face off against counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday. Photo by Virginia State Police/UPI | License Photo
Militia members face off against counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday. Photo by Virginia State Police/UPI | License Photo | License Photo

Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI said they would launch investigations into the Charlottesville, Va., demonstrations during which one anti-racism protester, opposed to the white nationalist gatherings, was killed.

In the deadly incident amid larger protests, a car plowed into a crowd of protesters opposed to white nationalist rallies being held in the Va. city. Authorities identified the victim as 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a paralegal from Greene County.

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"The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated. I have talked with FBI Director Chris Wray, FBI agents on the scene and law enforcement officials for the state of Virginia," Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote in a statement on Saturday. "The FBI has been supporting state and local authorities throughout the day. U.S. Attorney Rock Mountcastle has commenced a federal investigation and will have the full support of the Department of Justice. Justice will prevail."

Cellphone video of Saturday's attack showed the vehicle, a gray Dodge Challenger, driving at high speed into a narrow street crowded with protesters opposing the white nationalists who flooded Charlottesville for one of the movement's largest rallies in years.

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After entering the crowd, the car reversed back down the street striking additional pedestrians, revealing severe front-end damage and a smashed windshield.

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Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas called the incident "premeditated violence" and said it "is being treated as a criminal homicide investigation."

Thomas said the male driver was arrested shortly after the incident. The vehicle's license plate is visible in the video and The Washington Post reported it is registered to James Alex Fields, 20, of Maumee, Ohio, near Toledo. Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer confirmed to the newspaper Fields was booked on several charges, including suspicion of second-degree murder. He is being held without bail.

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"The Richmond FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances of the deadly vehicular incident that occurred earlier Saturday morning," the FBI said in a statement on Saturday. "The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and as this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time."

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The University of Virginia Medical Center said 19 people were also injured in the car-ramming incident, while 15 others were wounded in events associated with the scheduled protest.

Two Virginia State Patrol troopers -- identified as pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, who would have turned 41 on Sunday -- also died when a helicopter crashed near Charlottesville after monitoring the incidents on Saturday.

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Daniel Uria and Eric DuVall contributed to this report.

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