At first, details were scant. The two men had been killed, police said, after they tried to calm down a MAX train passenger who had been yelling anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage girls on an otherwise typical Friday afternoon commute.
A third man, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, had been wounded as well when the ranting passenger “viciously attacked them,” police said.
As further details emerged, so, too, did a portrait of “selflessness and heroism,” according to Portland Mayor Tom Wheeler.
Not only had Namkai Meche and Best actively sought to de-escalate what had been the angry passenger’s increasingly unhinged and frightening tirade, witnesses told local media, but it appeared that they did so to protect the two girls who had been the target of the rants.
In an emotional interview with KPTV News, 16-year-old Destinee Mangum said she had been riding the train with a Muslim friend, who was wearing a hijab, when a man approached them and suddenly began yelling at them “to get out of his country” and “that we basically weren’t anything and that we should kill ourselves.”
Choking back tears, Mangum expressed gratitude for the strangers who had intervened.
“I just want to say thank you to people who put their life on the line for me, ’cause they didn’t even know me, and they lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we looked,” Mangum told the news station. “And I just want to say thank you to them and their family, and that I appreciate them because, without them, we probably would be dead right now.”
Rachel Macy, a passenger on the train Friday, told the Oregonian that despite the attempts of Best, Namkai Meche and Fletcher to stop the ranting man, he brandished a knife and began attacking them; Macy added that she didn’t know when or in what order the stabbings occurred, only that they happened swiftly — and were “a nightmare.”
Best died at the scene, police said.
Macy tried to come to Namkai Meche’s aid, removing her tank top to help stanch the bleeding from his neck, according to the Oregonian.
“I just kept telling him, ‘You’re not alone. We’re here,”’ Macy told the newspaper. “‘What you did was total kindness. You’re such a beautiful man. I’m sorry the world is so cruel.”’
His last words to her before being taken away on a stretcher were “Tell everyone on this train I love them,” Macy added.
Namkai Meche was pronounced dead at a hospital Friday, police said. His grieving mother, Asha Deliverance, posted a widely shared tribute to her son on Facebook.
“He was a hero and will remain a hero on the other side of the veil,” she wrote. “Shining bright star I love you forever.”
Fletcher, the injured victim, was released from the hospital Monday night, KGW News reported. Images showed that he had a long gash on his neck where the knife had been “millimeters away from his jugular,” Fletcher’s girlfriend, Miranda Helm, told the Oregonian.
Fletcher told KGW News that he was focused on healing “as much as I can, in whatever way I can.”
“I’m having a hard time just going outside,” he told the news station Tuesday, his voice breaking. “I got stabbed in the neck on my way to work, randomly, by a stranger I don’t know, for trying to just be a nice person. Like, I don’t know what to do after that, you know?”
Over the weekend, several online crowdfunding accounts raised tens of thousands of dollars for the victims and their families. On Monday, Namkai Meche’s family drafted a letter to President Trump, pleading with him to condemn the train attack as an act of violence stemming from hate speech and hate groups.
“You have said that you will be President for all Americans. So, I ask you Mr. President to take action at this time. Your words and actions are meaningful, here in America and throughout the world,” Namkai Meche’s mother wrote. “Please encourage all Americans to protect and watch out for one another.”
Trump had been criticized for remaining silent about the incident over the weekend — despite returning from his international trip on Saturday and launching into a Twitter tirade about a variety of other topics. On Monday morning, Trump finally acknowledged in a tweet that the attack was “unacceptable.” A representative of Namkai Meche’s family told The Washington Post that they were dismayed it had taken him so long and that the message came from Trump’s less-followed @POTUS account rather than @realDonaldTrump.
Meanwhile, disturbing details about the suspect’s past also emerged over the weekend.
On Friday, police arrested 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, a north Portland resident described by local media and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “known white supremacist.” Christian’s Facebook page showed a long history of posting racist and extremist beliefs, including support for creating a “White homeland” in the Pacific Northwest and praising Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Police also confirmed that Christian was the man in a video taken aboard Portland public transportation the night before the attack, according to KOIN News. In that video, Christian can be seen going on a racist tirade.
“When I heard about the circumstances around it, that was the first thing that popped into my head, ‘I wonder if it’s the same guy from the night before,’ ” the woman who shot that video told the news station. “I felt that he was definitely looking for a fight of some sort that evening.”
Christian was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday afternoon. He is expected to be arraigned on two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, two counts of intimidation in the second degree and one count of a felon in possession of a restricted weapon. A Multnomah County grand jury will consider additional charges this week, police said.
Portland police said Monday that they are aware of Christian’s “extremist ideology” and examining his background as part of the investigation of “the circumstances leading to the violent attack.”