The mayor of Portland, Oregon, hailed as “heroes” two men who were stabbed to death trying to protect two women police say were the target of an anti-Muslim rant by a man on a light-railway train — a crime that shocked a city that prides itself on its tolerance.
Police said they would examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, who is accused of killing the men on Friday.
Christian’s social media postings indicate an affinity for Nazis and political violence.
The attack happened on the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims, and it sent shockwaves through Portland. A memorial where the stabbing occurred grew steadily on Saturday and there were night time vigils.
“That people feel emboldened to come out and show their racism and bigotry in that way is horrifying to me. It’s a gut check for everywhere — and absolutely for Portland,” said Christopher Douglas, who stopped at the memorial. “Portland ... floats in a little bit of a bubble of its own liberal comfort and I think the reality is sinking in.”
Christian was being held in Multnomah County Jail on suspicion of aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a weapon. He was arrested a short time after the attack.
He is scheduled to make a first court appearance tomorrow and it was not clear if he had an attorney.
A telephone at his home in Portland rang unanswered on Saturday and no one came to the door at his parents’ home.
Police identified the victims as Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley, Oregon, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, of Portland.
Best died at the scene and Meche died at a hospital, police said.
Meche’s mother, Asha Deliverance of Ashland, Oregon, confirmed on Facebook that her son had been killed.
“He was a hero and will remain a hero on the other side of the veil. Shining bright star I love you forever,” she wrote.
Meche graduated last year from Reed College in Portland with a bachelor’s in economics, the college said on its Web site.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a news conference that Best was an Army veteran and a city employee.
“These two men died heroes as a result of a horrific act of racist violence,” Wheeler said.
Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, of Portland was also stabbed in the attack and is in serious condition at a Portland hospital, police said, adding that his injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.
One of the two young women on the train was wearing a hijab, police said.
The assailant was ranting on many topics, using “hate speech or biased language,” police Sergeant Pete Simpson said.
Dyjuana Hudson, a mother of one of the girls, told The Oregonian that the man began a racial tirade as soon as he spotted the girls.
Her daughter is African-American and was with a friend who was wearing a hijab, she said.
“He was saying that Muslims should die,” Hudson said.
Wheeler decried the charged national political environment surrounding immigration.
“Violent words can lead to violent acts,” Wheeler said. “All elected leaders in America … must work deliberately to change our political dialogue.”
Muhammad Najieb, an imam at a local Muslim Community Center, on Saturday said the two young women “could have been the victims, but three heroes jumped in and supported them.
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