Bellaire High School grad injured in crash at Virginia rally

By Stephanie Cano - Digital News Editor

Bellaire High School graduate Natalie Romero was one of 19 people injured in Charlottesville on Saturday when a car plowed through a crowd of protesters. 

"She wanted to be there and all I said was, 'Just be careful," Romero's mother, Ericka Chaves said. "She was just protesting, peacefully. They were not doing nothing wrong and I know because she was Snapchatting. She was showing me the videos. They were not doing nothing wrong."

Romero, 20, a University of Virginia sophomore, was in the crowd when a Dodge Challenger sped through the group.

"And it really hurt me when I saw her picture on Snapchat around 1 or 2 in the morning," said Chaves, who hadn't heard from her daughter in hours. "Her bloody face. I started crying and started screaming and just feeling bad because I couldn't go over there and be there with my daughter."

Romero suffered memory loss and couldn't remember what happened to her when the car hit her.  Chaves said her daughter has a fractured skull and received stitches. 

"This should not happen anymore, not to her, not to any of us. This should not happen anymore," Chaves said. "I've been watching it over and over, and it hurts to see what happened and I thank God she wasn't the one who died. I pray for the person who died and I pray for the other people there."

Heather Heyer, 32, of Virginia, was identified Sunday as one of the victims killed in Saturday's protests.

The driver, James Alex Fields, 20, of Maumee, Ohio, is being held at a Virginia jail, charged with second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident, according to CNN.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency as counterprotesters went head-on with white nationalists protesting the removal of a Confederate monument.

"She's a strong person. She's always fighting for our rights." Chaves said of her daughter. "This isn't going to hold her back."

Chaves started a GoFundMe account to help pay for Romero's medical expenses.

Romero was a member of the ROTC at Bellaire High School and on a ROTC scholarship at the University of Virginia, according to her mother. She is studying environmental science and has plans to join the Army.

Chaves said she hopes to bring her daughter back home to Houston this Saturday, but is not sure if Romero will heal in time to start school.

“Someone like Natalie, she's extremely cautious and safe and doesn't put herself in harm’s way," said Naureen Ali, program manager of EMERGE and Romero's college adviser.

EMERGE is an organization that partners with the Houston Independent School District to increase the number of students from undeserved backgrounds who go to college.

Romero is a first-generation American; her family is from Colombia.

"We were texting yesterday morning. She just kept affirming to me that she was safe," Ali said. "She had sent me a video of her at the rally. Again, she had told me she was safe and then we went a long period of time when she stopped responding to the messages. I was a little bit worried. Then I saw the social media posts in the evening."

"I honestly haven't even been able to watch the footage of that video I think it's unreal to me that these type of things occur in the United States of America," Ali said. "The effect our students our children, kids that are working relentlessly to better their lives, the lives of their communities and their families and it's truly unbelievable."

HOUSTON RALLY

On the steps of Houston City Hall, hundreds of people gathered for a vigil, hosted by several groups, to show solidarity, love and support for the people hurt and killed in Charlottesville.

"It was pretty heartbreaking but I'm here now trying to give what I can to show that I'm here and supportive," said Kristin Kotinea, who brought her school-aged daughter to the rally.

"Just knowing that it was so close to home, having someone here in Houston that was affected. Being here now, I was a little hesitant to bring her (her young daughter), because I’m sure she (Romero) wasn't expecting anything to happen to her either," Kotinea said.

Several speakers spoke about denouncing hate and Chaves spoke to the crowd.

The Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Alternative Houston, the Houston Communist Party, Our Revolution Texas Gulf Coast Region and Indivisible Houston put on the event.

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