Berke Bates and H. Jay Cullen were identified as the two Virginia state police officers killed when their helicopter crashed just seven miles from the Charlottesville clashes between white nationalists and counter protesters.
The deaths of the two officers grew the death toll to three in what was already a blood day on August 12 as white nationalists descended on the Virginia city to express their displeasure over a statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee being planned for removal from downtown.
“Virginia State Police confirmed there were two fatalities on board the helicopter and no one on the ground was hurt,” The Arkansas Journal reported.
Earlier in the day, a car rammed into a crowd of counter protesters. In addition to the deaths of the troopers and one other identified person, at least 34 people were injured in the car ramming and other violence.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Cullen Was Married With Two Son & the Helicopter Went Down Only Miles From the Unrest
The chopper crashed in a wooded area that is near a golf course not far from Charlottesville.
According to The Daily Progress, the helicopter “crashed into a wooded area near a home close to Birdwood Golf Course on Old Farm Road in Albemarle County.”
ABC News reported that the crash occurred only seven miles from Charlottesville.
The helicopter “hovered low over the houses near the golf course before crashing,” Fresno Bee reported.
Cullen was a lieutenant who graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in May 1994 as a member of the 90th Basic Session, according to a press release.
He joined the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit in 1999.
Cullen is survived by his wife and two sons, according to the release.
2. Bates Died the Day Before His Birthday & the Helicopter Deaths Were ‘Linked’ to the Unrest, Reports Said
Bates would have turned 41-years-old on Sunday, August 13. He graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in August 2004 as a member of the 107th Basic Session.
He had just transferred to the Aviation Unit as a trooper-pilot in July, the release said.
Although some on social media blamed the protests for the deaths of the people on the helicopter, it was not yet confirmed whether the helicopter was responding to the riots or protests.
“State police would not say if the helicopter had been involved in monitoring the clashes between alt-right demonstrators and counter protesters ahead of the scheduled Unite the Right rally downtown,” Daily Progress reported.
The Associated Press later reported that “Officials say the deaths of two people in a helicopter crash near Charlottesville, Virginia, have been linked to a violent white nationalist rally earlier in the day. It was not immediately clear how the crash was connected to the rally.”
In a press release identifying the victims, authorities said the helicopter was assisting in efforts in Charlottesville.
3. The Cause of the Fatal Crash Is Not Yet Known & President Trump Tweeted Condolences
Daily Progress reports that the cause of the helicopter crash is not yet clear.
President Donald Trump tweeted of the dead officers, “Deepest condolences to the families & fellow officers of the VA State Police who died today. You’re all among the best this nation produces.” Trump has been criticized by many – including some top Republicans – for his earlier response to the Charlottesville car ramming incident, in which he condemned the violence on “many sides” and did not call out the white nationalists specifically or refer to the attack as domestic terrorism.
4. Photos & Videos Showed Smoke Emerging From the Scene & the Emergency Response
Photos and videos captured some of the emotion at the scene as well as plumes of smoke rising from the site where the chopper went down.
5. It Was a Blood Day in Charlottesville
The double fatality crash of the chopper came after another death was reported and 34 people were injured in a day of clashes in Charlottesville between white nationalists and counter protesters.
In the most dramatic incident, the car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, sending people flying and to the hospital. The suspect has not yet been identified.
The white nationalists had descended on Charlottesville with torches, chants, and Nazi salutes because they are upset by the vote to remove a Robert E. Lee statue from Charlottesville’s downtown area.