Even before their names were released, one word repeatedly came up to describe the men who were killed in a stabbing Friday on a light-rail train in Portland, Oregon: heroes.
They had tried to intervene, police said, after another passenger began “ranting and raving” and shouting anti-Muslim insults at two young women.
That’s when the ranting passenger turned his anger toward those who sought to calm him down. He fatally stabbed two men and seriously injured a third, police said, before fleeing the train on foot.
“Two men lost their lives and another was injured for doing the right thing, standing up for people they didn’t know against hatred,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement Saturday. “Their actions were brave and selfless, and should serve as an example and inspiration to us all. They are heroes.”
Police on Saturday identified the two slain victims as 53-year-old Ricky John Best and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche.
The third victim, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, is being treated for injuries that were not life-threatening, police said.
“They were all attacked because they did the right thing,” Wheeler said.
Police arrested 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, of north Portland. Local media reports described Christian as a “known white supremacist” in the area, and his Facebook page showed a long history of posting racist and extremist beliefs.
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.
At least two men tried to calm the ranting man down, but “they were attacked viciously by the suspect,” Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said at a news conference Friday evening.
“It appears preliminarily that the victims — at least a couple of them — were trying to intervene in his behaviour, de-escalate 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 Center in east Portland. There, they found three stabbing victims, all adult men. Despite measures to save them, Best, a resident of Happy Valley, Oregon, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Namkai Meche, of southeast Portland, died at a hospital; Fletcher, of southeast Portland, is expected to survive, police said.
Based on witness statements, police were able on Friday to track down and arrest Christian. He 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 state medical examiner is conducting autopsies on Best and Namkai Meche, according to police.
The stabbing attack shocked the city and sent those who knew the victims into mourning.
“It’s horrific. There’s no other word to describe what happened today,” Simpson said Friday. “It is simply horrible.”
On Saturday, 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 honour of his memory, we use this tragedy as an opportunity for reflection and change. We choose love.”
Namkai Meche was a 2016 graduate of Reed College in Portland who majored in economics, according to a statement by the college.
“I still remember where he sat in conference and the types of probing, intelligent questions I could anticipate him asking. He was thoughtful, humble, smart, inquisitive, and compassionate,” Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, a professor of religion and humanities at Reed, said in the statement. “He was a wonderful human being. As good as they come. And now he is a hero to me.”
The mayor on Saturday identified Best as a father, an Army veteran and a city employee.
“He was an Army veteran killed on Memorial Day weekend,” Wheeler said at a news conference, his voice breaking.
Kareen Perkins, Best’s supervisor at the Bureau of Development Services, told the Oregonian that Best was known for his readiness to help and for his love of his wife and four children.
“He was always the first person you would go to for help,” Perkins told the newspaper Saturday. “I’ve talked to most of his coworkers today, and several of them said it’s just like Rick to step in and help somebody out.”
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 that the funds are sent to the victims’ families.
The attack shut down the Hollywood Transit Center and Portland MAX trains in both directions for several hours Friday evening.
Simpson noted at the time that several passengers, including the two 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 the 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 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.”
“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 head scarf.”
The attack prompted outrage among residents and lawmakers in Oregon, as well as nationwide.
Multnomah County officials announced that its mental-health call centre would be available 24 hours a day for those affected by the train stabbing.
The Portland Mercury reported that Christian was a “known right-wing extremist and white supremacist” who had attempted to assault protesters 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.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Facebook page that it 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 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 a 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 U.S. 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.”
Portland police confirmed to The Post that they believed the Facebook page belonged to Christian.
Christian’s mother 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.”