How the Internet Is Coming Together to Pay Charlottesville Victims' Medical Bills
On Saturday morning, University of Virginia student Natalie Romero texted her mom, Ericka Chaves, to let her know that she was heading out to the counter-protests in Charlottesville. Her mother texted back: “Love you too baby bear, be careful please.”
“I was nervous because you never know what’s going to happen,” Chaves, who was tracking her daughter’s Snapchats that day, told InStyle. At one point, the Snapchats stopped. “I was contacting her friends, posting to Facebook. I was looking at the Internet trying to find any pictures of her. I didn’t turn the TV on. I was scared. I didn’t want to.”
It would be another four hours before Natalie’s mom received a call from the hospital, informing Chaves that Natalie, 20, had been in the crowd mowed down by a car allegedly driven by white supremacist James Fields. She was admitted with a skull fracture and face injuries, but doctors were confident she would be okay.
Chaves was relieved, but the family doesn’t have medical insurance, and she knew the bills would be substantial. She opened an account on the fundraising website GoFundMe and posted the Natalie Romero Medical Fund she created to her own Facebook page as well as Natalie’s. “Just to have our friends help out,” Chaves said.
Three days and 4,700-plus donations later, they’ve raised more than $131,00, surpassing Chaves's $120,000 goal. Most of the money came in $10 and $20 at a time after Chaves appeared on the local news in Houston, Texas, where Natalie grew up. “I wasn’t going to talk [to the media]. I didn’t want to. But Natalie was there for a reason, and people need to know. These things need to stop.”
Ishena Robinson from Chicago didn’t catch the Houston evening news, but word spread even further when the family of Heather Heyer, who died in the crash that injured Natalie, started directing people to Chaves’s page. Robinson, 26, gave $5 to Natalie and another $5 to four other campaigns also raising money for victims in Charlottesville. “I’d been feeling so helpless and outraged and scared over the weekend. This is something where I could do something too.”
Robinson said that through her donations, she found more than just a way to give—she found a community of people helping one another heal. “I was reading through the comments on the pages. It reminded me that there are good people out there who don’t believe in hate. People from all walks [are donating]. You can see their pictures.”
In the wake of a public tragedy, "There's a primal need to reach out and connect," said New York-based psychotherapist Jessica Koblenz, describing the support for Romero's fund as not only an ethical reaction to injustice but an effective way to begin to process tragedy. "In reaction to traumatic events, we are forced to confront our own powerlessness. Do we remain quiet or reach out and make a positive change? We are given a choice to become helpless ourselves or to try to galvanize and be empowered."
Which is exactly what Chaves believes her daughter will do. Romero was released from the hospital on Monday with the prognosis of a full recovery. "I know she will keep on doing this,” said Chaves, referring to Romero's activism. “She’s a very strong person.”
Now that her daughter is home, Chaves is directing her community to similar GoFundMe accounts set up for other victims of Saturday's attack—and she's beginning to process the violence as a citizen and a mother. "It was a relief knowing she's alive, but someone died doing exactly the same thing as my daughter," said Chaves. "We won't let hate win," she posted to Facebook yesterday. "No more Virginia[s]."