Heather Heyer died after a driver slammed into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. She was only 32. Since her death, a few conspiracy theories have surfaced claiming she died of a heart attack caused by her weight and not from the crash itself. Those conspiracy theories are wrong. Here are the details on the young woman’s tragic death, while she still had so much potential in her life.
Heyer was killed while crossing the street during the Charlottesville protests. She was part of a group of counter protesters, some of whom carried LGBTQ flags and Black Lives Matter signs, who were demonstrating against a group of alt-right who had rallied together to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The night before, the alt-right group had carried torches in protest, ramping up the tensions in the area.
The man accused of driving the car that hit the counter protesters, James Alex Fields, Jr., is now facing 30 federal hate crime charges. He was found guilty of first-degree murder in a state trial and could face 20 years to life in prison.
Heather Heyer died of blunt force injury to her chest, the Central District Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond found. The manner of death was still pending at the time the cause of death was released. (Manner of death refers to the classification of what led to the cause of death, such as whether it was an accident, a homicide, a suicide, natural causes, etc.) According to the state of Virginia, here is what the cause of death means versus the manner of death: “The cause of death is the medical disease, injury, or poison (alcohol, drug, or toxic substance) that caused the physical death of a person. The manner of death is a description of the circumstances surrounding the death. Deaths are classified by manner as natural, accident, suicide, homicide, undetermined, and pending. Deaths resulting from injuries or complications from injuries – no matter how long after the injury occurred – are still medical examiner cases and fall under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner.”
One federal hate crime charge was filed against Fields for Heyer’s death, and 28 additional charges were filed based on injuries to other protesters in the area.
Unfortunately, conspiracy theories circulated after Heyer’s death, claiming she died of a heart attack because she was overweight. This vicious rumor stemmed from an interview that her mother gave with NBC News, which you can watch here. In the interview, her mother, Susan Bro, said that Heyer died of a heart attack. But then she clarified, saying that paramedics were able to briefly revive Heyer (not consciously) but it wasn’t enough.
“She died of a heart attack right away at the scene, they revived her briefly and then — not consciously — they just got her heart beating again and then her heart just stopped. So I don’t feel like she suffered.”
Although the medical examiner did not clarify, it is possible for blunt force trauma to lead to a heart attack. Blunt trauma to the chest can at times cause cardiac contusion. According to the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock: “Traffic accidents are the most frequent cause of cardiac contusions resulting from a direct blow to the chest. Other causes of blunt cardiac injury are numerous and include violent fall impacts … and various types of high-risk sports. Myocardial contusion is difficult to diagnose; clinical presentation varies greatly, ranging from lack of symptoms to cardiogenic shock and arrhythmia. Although death is rare, cardiac contusion can be fatal…”
Blunt chest trauma can not only cause cardiac contusion, it can also rupture a heart chamber, disrupt a heart valve, or even cause cardiac arrest, Merck Manual reported.
So, it is possible that blunt force trauma can cause a fatal heart attack. However, it’s not officially known if a heart attack played a role in Heyer’s death, only that a medical examiner ruled her cause of death as being blunt force injury to the chest.
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, told The Daily Beast that she had to hide the location of Heyer’s grave because so many people were expressing hatred for her and her daughter and threatening violence.