Portland’s eighth and ninth homicide victims this year are two men who tried to stop a suspect from verbally attacking two young Muslim women on a train, just before the start of Ramadan. Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson called Friday’s knife attack “horrific.”
As of this writing, police have not publicly identified the victims. A third man who also intervened and was injured by the knife-wielding assailant is expected to recover.
According to Simpson, “This suspect was on the train, he was yelling, ranting, and raving a lot of different things, including what would be characterized as hate speech or biased language. People approached him and tried to intervene with his behavior, and some of the people he was yelling at, they were attacked viciously by the suspect resulting in the two deaths and one injury.”
One of the women who was targeted by the anti-Muslim rant was wearing a hijab, according to news reports. Both of these young women, who have not been identified, fled the scene and are reportedly safe.
The killings shut down one of Portland’s MAX train lines for several hours, and grieving community members set up a makeshift memorial near the station where the attacks occurred.
According to The New York Times:
The attack occurred about 5 p.m. in a train car on Portland’s light-rail system. The attacker began yelling—calling Muslims “criminals”—shortly after the two women boarded, said Evelin Hernandez, a train passenger.
“He said, ‘Get off the bus, and get out of the country because you don’t pay taxes here,’” Ms. Hernandez told KATU-TV.
When the two men tried to intervene, he pulled out a knife and slashed them, according to Ms. Hernandez and the police. The two women were not injured and left the station before the police could talk to them, Sergeant Simpson said.
Witnesses called 911 and reported the location of the fleeing suspect, who was soon arrested near a local hospital.
“He was talking about a lot of different things, not just specifically anti-Muslim. We don’t know if he’s got mental health issues, we don’t know if he’s under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or all of the above,” Simpson said.
The Oregonian reported that a white man, 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, was booked on suspicion of aggravated murder and attempted murder early Saturday morning. Police did not immediately confirm that Christian is the attacker.
The local transit authority, TriMet, also tweeted messages of support to victims’ families and the Muslim community:
Portland police said they are stepping up security patrols during Ramadan and working closely with members of the local Muslim community.
“Ramadan begins at sundown, our thoughts are with the Muslim community. Something like this happens, this instills fear in that community,” Simpson said on Friday. “We have already reached out previous to this incident to our Muslim community partners and the different imams about extra patrols during Ramadan. We want to reassure them that that will continue. This appears at least to be an isolated incident based on what we know at this point.”
Simpson asked witnesses to come forward and sent a message of condolence to the victims’ families.
“It’s horrific. There’s no other way to describe what happened today,” he said. “For the victims, our thoughts and prayers are with their families.”
Update: The Portland Mercury has reported that the suspect, Jeremy Joseph Christian, is a “known right wing extremist and white supremacist.”
According to the Mercury:
On April 29, Christian showed up to the right-wing “March for Free Speech” on 82nd Avenue in Montavilla with a baseball bat in an attempt to assault left-wing protesters. The bat was quickly confiscated by Portland police officers. He ranted how he was a nihilist. He’d soon yelled racial slurs (“fuck all you n*****s”) and gave the Nazi salute throughout the day. He yelled “Hail Vinland” throughout the day.
A few Portland police officers on April 29 appeared to be familiar with Christian, but not threatened by him. They claimed he had a head injury and was mentally ill.
The newspaper also posted several videos and photos of Christian, including one in which he is draped in the U.S. flag and delivering a Nazi salute.
Update: The victims of the attack have been identified as Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, and Ricky Best, 53. A third man who also intervened and was seriously injured is Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21. Read the full story here.