New Details Emerge About Accused Charlottesville Suspect

Aug 15, 2017
Originally published on August 15, 2017 6:49 pm
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We're learning more about the man accused of driving his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend. Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. is in jail on murder charges. NPR's Jeff Brady reports Fields grew up in Kentucky, where as a teenager, his mother called police on several occasions because she couldn't control her son.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: James Fields Jr. and his mother lived in Florence, Ky., about a 30-minute drive south of Cincinnati. Fields's father reportedly died before his son was born. Police logs show that in 2010, his mother, Samantha Bloom, who uses a wheelchair, told police her son had taken her phone and then hit her on the head with it. She told the police dispatcher that she was locked in the bathroom because her son threatened to beat her up after she told him to stop playing video games. There are several other calls a year later in which Bloom was worried about her son or found him threatening. There's no record of calls after that. At high school, Principal Mike Wilson doesn't remember any problems.

MICHAEL WILSON: He is a 2015 graduate of Cooper High School. And all I remember from him is being very reserved and quiet.

BRADY: A social studies teacher at Cooper, Derrick Weimer, got to know Fields better. Weimer says he had the young man in three courses over two years and says he was smart but also held disturbing views about Germany during the Nazi era.

DEREK WEIMER: You know, he clearly loved those guys. You know, the Germans were great. Nazism was great. Adolf Hitler was great. You know, he wanted to do good things for people. And you know, white people are superior, you know? And if you got that sort of conversation with him, he wouldn't just kind of, you know, kind of try to bully the conversation or it get real aggressive. He would start listing things from history that he felt supported his view.

BRADY: Weimer says by the time Fields was a senior, it seemed like his student's views had softened a little bit. But Weimer says he didn't keep up much with Fields after graduation. A neighbor, Yvonne Lovensheimer, says Fields and his mother were pleasant enough.

YVONNE LOVENSHEIMER: If he'd see me coming or going or whatever, he'd ask me, can I help you carry that? Can I carry your groceries, you know, whatever. And - but like I said, they mostly stayed to theirself (ph).

BRADY: After high school, Fields signed up with the U.S. Army. And the military says he reported for basic military training at Fort Benning in Georgia in the summer of 2015. But the Army says he was released from duty for failing to meet training standards. Not long ago, Fields and his mother moved north to Maumee, Ohio, just outside Toledo. He worked as a security guard. And his employer says he was on vacation last weekend. Neighbors in Maumee say they didn't recognize Fields when his mug shot started turning up in news reports over the weekend. A march and rally was organized Monday evening in Maumee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho, Nazi scum has got to go. Hey, hey...

BRADY: It was a pointed chant in a community where many say they want to send a message that racism is not welcome. Veralucia Mendoza was one of the organizers and says she was thinking of those views James Fields held in high school when she was putting together the event.

VERALUCIA MENDOZA: He had a place here in the year that he lived here in Maumee to continue those thoughts, to continue that of rhetoric and that sort of hatred. So that means that it was nurtured here. Therefore, there needed to be a response.

BRADY: Two of the people injured in Charlottesville last weekend have now filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against James Fields Jr., the organizers of the Unite the Right rally and others. In the court filings, attorneys for Tadrint and Micah Washington argue their clients suffered physical and emotional injuries caused by the defendants. They're asking for a jury trial. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.