CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — A photographer was on the last day of his job at the local newspaper when he captured the defining images of the violent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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 people were injured.
“I didn’t have any sense of details of what was happening,” Kelly, 30, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday. “I knew immediately that something horrible had happened and I knew it had happened intentionally.”
He added: “But it all happened very, very quickly, and he [the driver] was gone as soon as he came down [the hill].”
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 had been prepping coverage for the white nationalist rally — and the counterprotests — for weeks, he said.
Kelly told the Columbia Journalism Review he was walking in front of the anti-white nationalist protesters when the car came screeching, next to where he was standing on the sidewalk.
“I could barely even react. It was just all instinct to even put my camera up to my face in the first place and be able to take any pictures at all,” he told CNN.
The driver backed out of the crowd, and Kelly said he tried to chase after him. But the gray Dodge 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.”
Kelly said he has no doubt the driver intentionally plowed into the crowd.
“He backed up the hill. I passed by in front of him. I was on the road for maybe 10, 15 seconds. I moved over to the sidewalk,” Kelly told CNN. “And then he came barreling down at full speed in to the crowd, immediately put in to reverse and reversed at speed back up the hill and took off down the side street.”
James Alex Fields Jr. was taken into police custody shortly after the crash, and now faces charges 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. Martin 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.”