Two men were stabbed to death and one injured Friday on a light-rail train in Portland, Ore., after they tried to intervene when another passenger began “ranting and raving” and shouting anti-Muslim hate speech at two young women, police said.
A third victim, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
According to witnesses, a white male passenger riding an eastbound MAX train early Friday afternoon began yelling what “would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions,” police said. Some of the slurs were directed at two female passengers, one of whom was wearing a hijab, according to police.
“This suspect was on the train and he was yelling and ranting and raving a lot of different things, including what we characterized at hate speech or biased language,” Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said at a news conference Friday evening.
At least two men tried to calm the ranting passenger down, but “they were attacked viciously by the suspect” when they did, Simpson said.
“It appears preliminarily that the victims — at least a couple of them — were trying to intervene in his behavior, deescalate him and protect some other people on the train when [the suspect] viciously attacked them,” Simpson said.
About 4:30 p.m. Friday, police responded to calls of a disturbance at the Hollywood Transit Station in east Portland. There, they found three stabbing victims, all adult men. Despite attempted lifesaving measures, Best, a resident of Happy Valley, Ore., was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Namkai Meche, of southeast Portland, died at a local hospital; Fletcher, of southeast Portland, is expected to survive, police said Saturday.
The Oregon State Medical Examiner is conducting autopsies on Best and Namkai Meche and expected to release results late Saturday afternoon, according to police.
Based on witnesses’ statements, officers on Friday were able to locate and arrest the suspect, who had fled the train on foot.
Police identified the suspect early Saturday morning as 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, of north Portland. Christian is being held without bail on two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, two counts of intimidation in the second degree and one count of possession of a restricted weapon as a felon.
The stabbing attack shocked the city.
“It’s horrific. There’s no other word to describe what happened today,” Simpson said Friday. “It is simply horrible.”
The attack shut down the Hollywood Transit Station and Portland MAX trains in both directions for several hours Friday evening.
Simpson noted then that several passengers, including the two young women thought to be the target of the man’s anti-Muslim slurs, had left the train after the stabbings. He urged any witnesses to come forward to give statements to police. Simpson added that it did not appear that the suspect or the victims had any relationship with one another.
“We don’t know if (the suspect) has mental-health issues or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or all of the above,” Simpson said. “With this incident, we’re obviously in early stages of the investigation.”
According to the Associated Press, the FBI and U.S. Attorney for Oregon will work with Portland police on the case. The FBI said it’s too early to say whether the killings qualify as a federal hate crime but U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said Saturday, “There’s a day of reckoning coming, a day of accountability,” the AP reported.
The attacks occurred just as Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, was set to commence at sunset Friday. Simpson said that Portland police had already reached out to Muslim organizations, mosques and imams in the community to talk about extra patrols during Ramadan — and that those extra patrols would continue.
“Our thoughts are with the Muslim community,” Simpson said Friday. “As something like this happens, this only instills fear in that community.”
On Saturday, people mourned the stabbing victims and praised them as heroes for their actions. Namkai Meche’s sister, Vajra Alaya-Maitreya, emailed a statement to The Washington Post on behalf of their family, saying her brother lived “a joyous and full life” with an enthusiasm that was infectious.
“We lost him in a senseless act that brought close to home the insidious rift of prejudice and intolerance that is too familiar, too common. He was resolute in his conduct (and) respect of all people,” she wrote. “In his final act of bravery, he held true to what he believed is the way forward. He will live in our hearts forever as the just, brave, loving, hilarious and beautiful soul he was. We ask that in honor of his memory, we use this tragedy as an opportunity for reflection and change. We choose love.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Saturday said, “Their actions were brave and selfless and should serve as an example, an inspiration to us all,” the AP reported.
By Saturday afternoon, a GoFundMe campaign called “Tri Met Heroes” set up for the victims’ families had raised more than $30,000. A GoFundMe spokesman confirmed to The Post that the company would ensure funds are sent to the victim’s families.
The attack prompted a slew of outraged responses Friday from Oregon residents and lawmakers, as well as nationally.
Terrible tragedy on Portland's Max Train. Champions of justice risked and lost their lives. Hate is evil. https://t.co/RMB5ltQlop— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) May 27, 2017
Tonight's horrific attack is a tragic reminder that hate & violence are all too real in Portland. My heart is with families of the victims.— Sharon Meieran (@SMeieran) May 27, 2017
Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly called the incident “especially sad and disturbing” in a statement on behalf of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who was traveling Friday night, and the City Council, according to KGW News.
“People lost their lives or were injured because they stood up to hate,” Eudaly said in the statement. “We need to offer our heartfelt support to the women and others who were targeted. The courage of the people who stood up for them is a reminder that we as a city need to stand together to denounce the hate.”
Multnomah County officials announced that its mental-health call center would be available 24 hours a day for those affected by the MAX train stabbing.
“We are very sad. Ramadan started just a couple hours ago,” Imtiaz Khan, president of the Islamic Center of Portland, told Oregon Public Broadcasting on Friday night. “We are very sorry for the two men who tried to do the right thing. … Of course people from the Muslim community are concerned. And, unfortunately, the easy targets are women because of the headscarf.”
The Portland Mercury, a local newspaper, reported that Christian was a “known right wing extremist and white supremacist” who had attempted to assault protesters at local demonstrations in the past. Video from April 29, shot by Mercury reporter Doug Brown, showed Christian arriving at a “March for Free Speech” draped in an American flag and carrying a baseball bat. While there, Christian yelled to the crowd that he was a “nihilist,” shouted the n-word at people and gave Nazi salutes, Brown reported.
Suspect in brutal Portland hate crime murders is known white supremacist. I photo'd him giving Nazi salute in April https://t.co/oZJvre8oL5 pic.twitter.com/wHuylG5C2f— doug brown (@dougbrown8) May 27, 2017
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Facebook page they said belonged to Christian showed he held racist, white supremacist and extremist beliefs. On that profile, the Facebook user said he supported creating a “White homeland” in the Pacific Northwest and declared on April 9 that he had “just Challenged Ben Ferencz (Last Living Nuremberg Persecutor) to a Debate in the Hague with Putin as our judge. I will defend the Nazis and he will defend the AshkeNAZIs.”
On April 19, the anniversary of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the user praised bomber Timothy McVeigh in another status update.
“May all the Gods Bless Timothy McVeigh a TRUE PATRIOT!!!” he wrote. McVeigh was sentenced to death for the 1995 bombing, which killed 168 and was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil before Sept. 11, 2001.
On April 28, the same Facebook user shared a meme that showed a picture of Confederate statues being removed.
“If we’re removing statues because of the Civil War, We should be removing mosques because of 9/11,” the meme stated.
That same day, the user posted a lengthy Facebook status “too (sic) all my Portland Peeps” encouraging them to attend a free speech rally in Portland:
I will be there Demasking anyone with a mask. I will attend in Lizard King Regalia as a Political Nihilist to Provoke both Sides and attempt to engage anyone in a true Philosophy and Political Discussion. This Is what I have done for the last 6 years in front of Powell’s Books Downtown. I take the Role of International Patriot and Revolutionary VERY SERIOUS BUT YOU ALL KNOW I AM THE MOST LAID BACK DUDE IN THE WORLD- Until you cross that line then nothing will stop our COME TO JESUS TALK FRIEND OR FOE.
By Saturday morning, the page was flooded with furious comments from people who had linked him with the Portland train stabbing suspect. An SPLC spokeswoman told The Washington Post on Saturday that the group had confirmed this was Christian’s Facebook page by corroborating his mugshot likeness with pictures the Facebook user had shared, as well as with other reporting.
Portland police confirmed to The Post that they believed the Facebook page belonged to Christian.
Christian’s mother, Mary Christian, told the Huffington Post that she couldn’t imagine why her son would be involved in such an incident, “unless he was on drugs or something.”
“He’s been in prison. He’s always been spouting anti-establishment stuff,” Mary Christian told the news site Saturday. “But he’s a nice person. I just can’t imagine.”
Todd C. Frankel contributed to this report. This post has been updated.