20-year-old charged with murder after car plows through crowd in Virginia

By: ABC News

Updated:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The usually quiet university city of Charlottesville, Virginia, declared a state of emergency Saturday after a Unite the Right gathering of far-right extremists began with early, violent clashes with counter-protesters.

The state of Virginia shortly after declared the gathering unlawful and ordered both rallygoers and counter-protesters to "disperse immediately."

The Virginia State Police posted videos on Facebook of officers breaking up the Unite the Right gathering and counter-protest. Warning: The videos contain some offensive language and images.

One video shows an officer announcing to milling crowds: "This gathering has been declared as to be an unlawful assembly; in the name of the Commonwealth, you are commanded to immediately disperse; if you do not disperse immediately you will be arrested.” Another video shows some of the crowd.

As of about 12:30 p.m., Charlottesville police reported that one person had been arrested and eight people had been treated for injuries by emergency workers.


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Saturday's far-right rally and clashes came after a Friday night march by torch-bearing white nationalists on and near the University of Virginia campus, which resulted in brawls with protesters countering the event.

The Unite the Right event Saturday was supposed to begin at noon, but people both in support and opposed to the rally began gathering earlier and by 11 a.m. two people had been treated for serious but non-life-threatening injuries after an altercation at the city's Emancipation Park, according to city officials.

A car plowed into a crowd of demonstrators marching down a street Saturday afternoon. Video shows crowds walking down a street as several cars move slowly along the same avenue. Abruptly, a silver or gray vehicle rams into the back of another vehicle, slamming one or more cars ahead of it amid the crowd of protesters. 

The driver backs up and rapidly flees the scene, videos show. 

Hospital officials say one person is dead and 19 are injured. Police said James Alex Fields, 20, an Ohio resident, has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit and run. 

Police said they made three other arrests related to the rally. 

Troy Dunigan, 21, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Jacob L. Smith, 21, of Louisa, Virginia, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault and battery. James M. O'Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed handgun. 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says a federal investigation has been opened into the incident. 

President Trump condemned the violence at a news conference on Saturday saying, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides." Trump said the violent clashes have no place in America. He said he spoke with the Virginia governor and they agreed "that the hate and division must stop."

Charlottesville has become a flash point for white nationalists and protesters seeking to counter them since a City Council vote in February to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park formerly called Lee Park but renamed in June as Emancipation Park.

A group opposed to the council's decision sued, and in May a judge issued a six-month injunction against the city's removing the statue while litigation proceeds.

On Friday night, hundreds of white nationalists carrying torches and chanting "white lives matter," "you will not replace us," and the Nazi-associated phrase "blood and soil" marched near a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the grounds of the University of Virginia, and were met by counter-protesters.

 

 

Police arrived on campus, declared it an unlawful assembly, and ordered the crowds to disperse. University police arrested one person who was charged with assault and disorderly conduct, a university statement Saturday said. "Several other members of the university community sustained minor injuries during the confrontation."

University President Teresa A. Sullivan, "strongly condemned the demonstration," the statement said, adding that the "intimidating and abhorrent behavior displayed by the alt-right protesters was wrong."

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer called the event "a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance," adding that he was "beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus."

A mass prayer service was held at St. Paul’s Memorial Church on University Avenue that was organized in response to the rally, according to The Daily Progress, a local paper.

Dr. Cornel West, a prominent leftist philosopher and political activist, spoke at the prayer service, calling the "Unite the Right" rally the “biggest gathering of a hate-driven right wing in the history of this country in the last 30 to 35 years,” the Daily Progress reported.

 

 

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