A Virginia photographer was on the last day of his job at the local newspaper when he captured the defining image of the violent Charlottesville protest.
Ryan Kelly, a staff photographer for Charlottesville’s Daily Progress, snapped photos Saturday as a car barreled into a crowd of counterprotesters marching against a white nationalist rally. One woman died and 19 were injured.
“It was a terrible thing and the fact that more people will be more aware of it happening is an overall positive, but I can’t say I’m happy to have been there,” Kelly, 30, told the Columbia Journalism Review.
Saturday was supposed to be Kelly’s last day working for the Daily Progress (he’s soon moving on to a job as the digital and social media coordinator for a Virginia brewery). The newspaper’s staff has been prepping coverage for the white nationalist rally — and the counterprotests — for weeks, he said.
Kelly, 30, told the magazine he was walking in front of the anti-white nationalist protesters when the car came screeching in, next to where he was standing on the sidewalk.
“Out of instinct, I began taking photos. I just brought the camera to my eye and just mashed the shutter down. I was barely even aware of what I was watching until he was speeding into the crowd,” he said.
The driver backed out of the crowd, and Kelly said he tried to chase after him, but the gray Dodge Charger got away faster than he expected.
Kelly said he was in the street just seconds before the car crashed into the crowd.
“Frankly, it was dumb luck that I was on the sidewalk instead of the middle of the road when I was,” he told CJR. “I was right where the car went, and I am very fortunate.”
James Alex Fields Jr. was taken into police custody shortly after the crash on suspicion of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.
Kelly’s photo shows counterprotester Marcus Martin flying through the air. He suffered a broken leg when he pushed his fiancée, Marissa Blair, out of the way, Blair told CNN.
The couple were attending the anti-white nationalist rally with Blair’s co-worker and friend, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who died in the crash.
“She would never back down from what she believed in. And that’s what she died doing, she died fighting for what she believed in,” Blair said.
Kelly said he knows his photo has gone viral, but he hasn’t thought much about the impact, yet. Right now he’s focused “on the fact that it was a horrible day.”
“This experience has been bittersweet, and it is way more bitter than sweet,” Kelly told CJR. “A person died, a lot of people were injured, people were in shock, a community has been terrorized.”