The Good Samaritans — whom the mayor called an “inspiration to us all” — were a recent Reed College graduate with a degree in economics and a city worker who was an Army veteran. The suspected assailant is in jail, being investigated for apparent extremist views.
PORTLAND — Police will be examining what appears to be the extremist ideology of an Oregon man accused of fatally stabbing two men who tried to intervene on a light-rail train when the suspect yelled slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim.
The attack Friday afternoon happened on the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims, and it sent shock waves through a city that prides itself on its tolerance and liberal views. A memorial where the stabbing occurred grew steadily Saturday.
“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. The city, he added, “floats in a little bit of a bubble of its own liberal comfort and I think the reality is sinking in.”
Jeremy Christian, 35, was being held in the 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 Friday.
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Police said one of the two young women on the train was wearing a hijab. The assailant was ranting on many topics, using “ speech or biased language,” police Sgt. Pete Simpson said.
Dyjuana Hudson, a mother of one of the girls, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the man went on a 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. “That they’ve been killing Christians for years.”
He will make a court appearance Tuesday. A phone at his home in Portland rang unanswered Saturday, and no one came to the door at his parents’ home.
Police identified the victims as Ricky Best, 53, of Happy Valley, Oregon, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, of Portland. Police say Best died at the scene and Meche died at a hospital.
Mother confirms ID
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.
Police say Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, of Portland also was stabbed in the attack and on Saturday was in serious condition at a Portland hospital. Police say his injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.
“Their actions were brave and selfless and should serve as an example, an inspiration to us all. They are heroes,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
Meche graduated last year from Reed College in Portland with a bachelor’s degree in economics, the college said on its website. His friends told The Oregonian/Oregonlive.com they weren’t surprised that he would try to help someone in need.
“He saw something. He did something. And that made sense to me,” Jamie Beckett said. “Taliesin was the kind of guy who made you believe that you can be bigger than yourself.”
Meche was a considerate student, said Kambiz GaneaBassiri, who taught Meche’s Introduction to Islam class in 2015. If another student was struggling during a class discussion, Meche would say something to back them up.
“He’s just the kind of person, if he saw somebody being mistreated, he would have spoken up,” GhaneaBassiri said.
Best, who was married and had four children, according to The Oregonian/Oregonlive.com, was a technician for the city Bureau of Development Services.
“He was always the first person you would go to for help,” Kareen Perkins, his supervisor, told The Oregonian. “I’ve talked to most of his co-workers today, and several of them said it’s just like Rick to step in and help somebody out.”
Best met his wife at Portland Community College, then joined the Army. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Best said in a voter pamphlet when he unsuccessfully ran for a Portland commissioner post in 2014.
Best retired from the Army in 2012 after 23 years of service.
“These two men died heroes as a result of a horrific act of racist violence,” Wheeler said.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney for Oregon are working with Portland police. The FBI says it’s too early to say whether the slayings qualify as a federal hate crime. However, Christian faces charges of intimidation, the state equivalent of a hate crime.
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.”
The Portland Mercury, one of the city’s alternative weeklies, posted an article on its website saying Christian showed up at a free-speech march in late April with a baseball bat to confront protesters and the bat was confiscated by police.
The article included video clips of a man wearing a metal chain around his neck and draped in an American flag shouting “I’m a nihilist! This is my safe place!” as protesters crowded around him.
Simpson confirmed the man in the videos was Christian and said investigators were aware of them. He declined to comment further.
Neighbors who live next to Christian’s parents’ house — which was also his last listed address in court records — said the family was quiet and they often saw Christian’s two adult brothers but never him.
One neighbor, Kenny Jenkins, said he occasionally saw Christian riding his bike around the neighborhood.
The neighborhood is on the northern outskirts of Portland, an area that has been rapidly gentrifying in recent years because it remains one of the last affordable sections of the city. The homes immediately surrounding the Christian residence now hold biracial families and same-sex couples, Jenkins said.
“The parents are very quiet. The dad was always helpful,” he said. “Good people.”
Christian has had several encounters with the law, and spent time in prison for robbery and kidnapping charges years ago, according to court records and a defense attorney.
In 2002, he was arrested and charged with first-degree robbery and second-degree kidnapping after he rode to a convenience store on his bike and held up employees there with a gun, according to court records and his court-appointed defense attorney at the time, Matthew Kaplan.
When police caught up with him, Christian aimed the gun at himself before he was shot and injured by police, Kaplan said.
He was sentenced to more than seven years in prison.
Kaplan said he remembers the case vividly because Christian was so young, so earnest and had never been in trouble before. At the time, the attorney suspected the onset of mental-health problems.
“I’ll remember this case forever because it made no sense,” he said in a phone interview.
At the memorial to the stabbing victims, 8-year-old Coco Douglas left a sign and some rocks she had painted with rainbow colors
Her stepmother, Angel Sauls, said the attack had been particularly painful for their family because Sauls is black and Coco and her father are white.
“I’m scared that this is going to make people afraid to stand up for other people,” Sauls said, after choking back tears. “ … I’m just really sorry that their acts of kindness were repaid in such a horrible way.”