CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Before he was accused of ramming his car into a crowd in Charlottesville, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, had been known to his high school teacher and classmates as being “very big into Nazism” and having a “fondness for Adolf Hitler.”
Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, is suspected of driving his Dodge Challenger into the crowd of counterprotesters gathered to oppose the “Unite the Right” rally of white nationalist and other right-wing groups on Saturday. Heather Heyer, 32, a paralegal from Charlottesville, was killed and 19 others were injured.
Fields is charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.
Those who knew Fields at his high school said he held extreme views and a fascination with Nazism. Fields would draw swastikas in class, one classmate told CNN affiliate WLWT.
But his mother expressed surprise that her son had attended an event with white supremacists.
“He had an African-American friend,” his mother, Samantha Bloom, told the Toledo Blade.
Bloom said that she didn’t know her son was going to Virginia for a white nationalist rally. She thought it had something to do with President Donald Trump.
She told the Blade she didn’t discuss politics with her son.
There were indications of trouble between Fields and his mother, during their years in Kentucky, before they moved to Ohio.
Police dispatcher logs released to CNN affiliate WLWT, show that police were called to the Florence, Kentucky, home of the mother of James Alex Fields, on several occasions. Police were called to the home of the mother — Samantha Bloom — nine times between 2010 and 2013, for a variety of incidents. On at least two occasions, police were called for alleged violent activity against the mother, who was disabled in a wheelchair at the time. And, in one incident in 2011, a 14-year-old boy was arrested according to the report. Police have not explained how that case was resolved. The name of the boy is redacted in all of the call logs.
Fields moved into a Maumee apartment in April and had been living alone with his cat, the building manager said.
Fields appears in court
On Monday, Fields made his initial court appearance via a video link from jail. Wearing a black and white jumpsuit, he noted that he was recently making $650 every two weeks working for Securitas, a security company, and that he couldn’t afford a lawyer.
The judge appointed an attorney for Fields and set August 25 as the date for the next hearing.
He was fired from his job as a security officer, according to a statement from Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. He worked for the company from May 5, 2016 to July 5, 2016, and again from November 23, 2016, until he was fired Monday, the statement said.
Fields was issued a security officer license by the state of Ohio, and while he worked for the company “he performed his duties satisfactorily,” the statement added.
He was using previously requested vacation time when the Charlottesville rally occurred, according to the statement.
What Fields was like in high school
Fields purportedly had some discussions with a teacher at the high school he attended in Union, Kentucky, where Fields and his mother lived until moving to Ohio.
Derek Weimer, who teaches social studies at Randall K. Cooper High School, told CNN on Sunday that Fields had “outlandish, very radical beliefs.”
“It was quite clear he had some really extreme views and maybe a little bit of anger behind them,” Weimer said. “Feeling, what’s the word I’m looking for, oppressed or persecuted. He really bought into this white supremacist thing. He was very big into Nazism. He really had a fondness for Adolf Hitler.”
Weimer said he had Fields in classes when the young man was a junior and a senior. They built a good rapport and could discuss topics without the student getting angry, Weimer said.
“I took every opportunity I could to really separate him from that garbage and [he and other teachers] weren’t successful,” Weimer said.
One of those opportunities arose in a class called America’s Modern Wars.
“I had many opportunities come up where I could use those opportunities to clearly show James that these are real historical examples,” Weimer said. “I would do all that to show him how wrong these views were, how evil they were, how white supremacism and Nazism, there is nothing about our country that has to do with those things.”
One of his classmates who took German classes with Fields told CNN affiliate WCPO, that Fields “would proclaim himself as a Nazi … it was not a secret.”
Principal Mike Wilson said he remembered Fields as a quiet and reserved student who graduated in 2015.
In August of that year, Fields was inducted into the Army but he left active duty in December 2015. A spokeswoman for the Army said he failed to meet training standards.
“As a result, he was never awarded a military occupational skill nor was he assigned to a unit outside of basic training,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson said.
‘This is not our story’
Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said the suspect was taken into custody not far from the crash site.
“What the world saw today is not the place Charlottesville is,” Thomas said of the violence that preceded the scheduled rally on Saturday. “We love our city. Let us heal. This is not our story. Outsiders do not tell our story. We will tell our own story.”