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The woman behind the heart-shaped protest at Trump rally

She did it on the spur of the moment.

Colleen Kristich, 26, was among about two dozen protesters who managed to get inside First Niagara Center Monday night to try to disrupt Donald J. Trump’s rally.

Her arms were locked with fellow protesters’ as they sat down on the floor of the hockey arena and chanted: “No Trump! No KKK! No racist USA!”

Two Erie County sheriff’s deputies who were part of the security force inside the arena pried apart Kristich’s fingers and pulled her up by her elbows.

As they moved forward to escort her outside, Kristich was facing backwards. Then she put her hands together to form the shape of a heart and smiled.

“I didn’t plan it,” said Kristich. “Basically, I was just looking around the people who were yelling. Looking at them, a lot of them looked like they could be members of my family. I felt a lot of love toward them. I felt they aren’t my enemy.”

The moment was caught by a Buffalo News photographer.

Kristich, a Houghton College graduate who works in energy efficiency for a local contractor, was among about two dozen people who were part of the action inside the arena Monday night.

“We were planning on disrupting the event because we wanted to show that we were united against Trump’s racist agenda,” said the West Side resident. The participants also were intent on holding accountable local leaders, including Rep. Chris Collins and Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino, for supporting the controversial Republican front-runner. “It’s not right for Buffalo representatives to do that,” she said her group believes.

The protesters walked into the arena without any trouble, she said, and began their action by first linking arms and then chanting.

As security approached, they sat down. “To make the action last as long as possible,” she said.

Some of the protesters were dragged out.

When the deputies came for her, Kristich said, she at first went limp. They pulled her up by her elbows so that she was standing and she began to cooperate.

She made the heart-shape with her hands to show love. “We were there to make a point against hate and fear and ignorance, which I think the campaign rests on,” she said.

She wasn’t getting a lot love back – at least not outwardly.

A few rally-goers hurled insults. Kristich said a young woman who appeared to be about her age made an obscene gesture to her.

Kristich said she pointed the heart directly at those people.

Buffalo police said 21 people were escorted out of the arena. Two of them were arrested. Another four people who were protesting outside were arrested for allegedly blocking the Metro Rail tracks.

A few hours after the rally, someone pointed out to Kristich the photo of her on Facebook.

At first, she was embarrassed. She had told a friend before the action that she didn’t want to end up in the press.

“I don’t want to be on the news,” she said. “I don’t want to be a meme.”

But as she saw the positive comments to the photo, she said she felt loved and supported.

“It was a genuinely positive reaction,” she said. “That’s why we were there. That’s kind of what came out.”

Kristich said she was happy with how her group’s action turned out.

There was no violence directed at them, as has been the case at some other events associated with Trump.

“We were expecting violence, so it was easier to show love,” she said. She also said the deputies were not rough with her or any of her fellow activists.

As her photo makes its way around social media, Kristich hopes people understand that she is just one person who was part of a group of protesters. “I didn’t do anything different or special from the other 20 people with me,” she said. “It was a collective action. I would not have been there without them. It would not have been an action, so give credit to everybody.”

email: mbecker@buffnews.com