NEWS
08/12/2017 14:39 EDT | Updated 08/13/2017 12:28 EDT

Charlottesville Rally: 3 Dead After Car Rams Into Crowd Of Protesters, Helicopter Crashes

Governor declares state of emergency.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - A car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally Saturday in a Virginia college town, killing one person, hurting more than a dozen others and ratcheting up tension in a day full of violent confrontations.

Shortly after, a Virginia State Police helicopter that officials said was assisting with the rally crashed outside Charlottesville, killing the pilot and a trooper.

The chaos boiled over at what is believed to be the largest group of white nationalists to come together in a decade. The governor declared a state of emergency, and police dressed in riot gear ordered people out.

The group had gathered to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and others arrived to protest the racism.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images
A woman receives first-aid after a car sped into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017.

Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, said several hundred counter-protesters were marching when "suddenly there was just this tire screeching sound." A silver Dodge Challenger smashed into another car, then backed up, barrelling through "a sea of people."

The impact hurled people into the air. Those left standing scattered, screaming and running for safety in different directions.

The driver was later identified by police as James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio. Police say Fields, 20, has been charged with charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count related to leaving the scene. A bond hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Win McNamee via Getty Images
The car that allegedly plowed through a crowd of protestors marching through a downtown shopping district is seen after the vehicle was stopped by police several blocks away on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va.

Fields' mother, Samantha Bloom, told The Associated Press on Saturday night that she knew her son was attending a rally in Virginia but didn't know it was a white supremacist rally.

"I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump's not a white supremacist," Bloom said.

"He had an African-American friend, so ..." she said before her voice trailed off. She added that she'd be surprised if her son's views were that far right.

Bloom, who became visibly upset as she learned of the injuries and deaths at the rally, said she and her son had just moved to the Toledo area from the northern Kentucky city of Florence. She said that's where Fields grew up. She relocated to Ohio for work.

Handout
James Alex Fields, 20, has been charged in connection with a car plowing into a crowd of anti-racist protesters.

Late Saturday, the Department of Justice announced the opening of a federal civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the FBI's Richmond field office and Rick Mountcastle, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, will lead the investigation.

"The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice," Sessions said in a statement. "When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated."

The turbulence began Friday night, when the white nationalists carried torches though the University of Virginia campus. It quickly spiraled into violence Saturday morning. Hundreds of people threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays. At least one person was arrested in connection.

City officials said the car collision left 19 people injured and said they treated 35 patients altogether.

Associated Press writers Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, Heidi Brown in Charlottesville, Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, and John Seewer in Maumee, Ohio, contributed to this report.