Police are describing an attack on a school in Trollhättan, Sweden, that left two dead as a "hate crime." It certainly seems to have been designed to maximize fear – not only did the attack take place in an area with a high proportion of immigrants at a time of heightened concern about refugees, the attacker wore a Darth Vader-inspired costume while he attacked students and staff with a sword.

Whatever the intentions of the attacker, however, what's notable in the response to the attack is how much attention is being paid to his first victim, Lavin Eskandar, a 20-year-old teaching assistant at the school.

"He's a hero," one student who escaped the attack told Expressen newspaper.

According to number of eyewitness accounts, Eskandar had been in the school's cafeteria when the attack began. Eskandar stepped in to try to protect the students at the school, which teaches children as young as 6. He was stabbed by the attacker as he tried to overpower him, and died at the scene.

Two students and one teacher were also seriously wounded in the attack before police arrived. One of the students, Ahmed Hassan, later died of his wounds. The 15-year-old had been born in Somalia and moved to Sweden three years ago, the Guardian reports.

In an interview with Expressen, Eskandar's older sibling said that his brother's attempt to protect others was typical of him.

"All I know is that he cared about others and not himself, and that he was trying to protect children," Leith Eskandar said. Others who knew him pointed to his success in creating music and video production. "He was too young to die," one friend told Afternposten.

Eskandar's death has made a national impact. William Spetz, a popular Swedish actor, took to Facebook to pay tribute to the young man. "You were a year older than I am [and] you also liked to make movies," he wrote, "but Lavin, I don't know if I'd have the guts to do what you did. You are a hero and I wish I could say that to you for real." Spetz's post has been liked more than 220,000 times and shared more than 43,000 times.

Eskandar's actions have earned him praise not just in Sweden but internationally. A photograph of Eskandar was shared on one of Reddit's most popular sub-verticals, with hundreds of users offering praise in comments. "I can't imagine ever being able to have the presence of mind to do what he did," one user wrote.

A number of Kurdish publications have picked up the story of his bravery, noting that a number of reports have suggested Eskandar came from an Iraqi Kurdish background. "As a Kurd, I am certainly very proud of his work and his attempts to save other people," Pirshang Tiwana, an Iraqi Kurd and a board member of  the Federation of Kurdish Associations in Sweden (FKKS), told Rudaw Media Network, a media group headquartered in Iraq.

Sweden has long been known for its progressive politics, but the large numbers of refugees and immigrants who have recently reached the country appear to have created a backlash, with far-right parties like the Sweden Democrats making remarkable gains in polls. At least three buildings being used to house refugees have been damaged in arson attacks recently.

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