Two men were fatally stabbed and another wounded after being attacked by a man whom they confronted once he began yelling racist comments at two teenagers on a light-rail train in Portland, Oregon, on Friday. One of the teenagers was Muslim and wearing a hijab, while the other was black. Fifty-three-year-old Army veteran Ricky John Best, a father of four, died at the scene, while 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, a recent college graduate, died after being transported to a local hospital. A third man, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher is recovering from serious wounds he received during the attack. All three men are being hailed as heroes.
The attacker, 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, fled the scene but was later arrested and is currently being held without bail on counts of aggravated murder, attempted murder, and other charges. Christian has previous convictions for felony robbery and felony kidnapping and seems to have been a white supremacist. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Christian’s social-media profile suggests he was “all over the political spectrum but indicates that he holds some racist and other extremist beliefs.” Christian was also recently seen using the N-word, shouting “Die Muslims!”, and giving Nazi salutes at a free-speech rally in Portland late last month.
Christian may now face federal hate-crime charges, though FBI special agent Renn Cannon told reporters on Saturday that it was “too early to say” whether the attack “was an act of domestic terrorism or a federal hate crime.”
Portland authorities and witnesses say that Christian “had been acting up the whole ride” while on a MAX light-rail train late Friday afternoon. Apparently, when Christian saw the two teenage girls, he approached them and launched into a diatribe of what “would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions” at the girls and others, according to police. The mother of one of the teenagers told reporters that one of the comments Christian made was that Muslims should die.
The three samaritans, Best, Namkai-Meche, and Fletcher, then tried to intervene in defense of the teens and calm Christian down, but he responded by attacking the men with a large knife, slashing their throats. Christian fled following the attack, and when confronted by police, tried to convince them to shoot him. He was taken into custody instead.
The two teenage girls, along with other passengers, ran from the train during the attack but were later identified and gave statements to police. The attack happened hours before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began in the city, and Portland police have contacted Muslim leaders in the area to let them know there would be extra patrols to ensure they are protected. The local Muslim community has already raised nearly $200,000 to support the families of the victims, and additional online fundraising efforts are also underway.
Rick Best, 53, was a 23-year Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and had been working as a technician for the Portland Bureau of Development Services following his retirement from the military. The Oregon native leaves behind a wife and four teenage children.
Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, had decided to remain in Portland after earning an economics degree from Reed College last year and getting a job at a local consulting firm. His family said in a statement that his enthusiasm was “infectious” and he had “lived a joyous and full life”:
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. In his final act of bravery, he held true to what he believed is the way forward.
While in high school, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, whose injuries are not life threatening, won a poetry slam in 2013 in which he recited a poem speaking out against prejudice toward Muslims in America. Fletcher, who was traveling in between work and college classes at the time of the attack, has become a committed activist. “I was shocked it was him, but I wasn’t surprised it was him — I can’t see him not standing up,” a friend told Buzzfeed News regarding Fletcher’s involvement in the intervention.
More than a thousand people attended two vigils for the victims on Saturday night in Portland. The men are being widely honored as heroes for confronting Christian and trying to protect the teenagers. Portland mayor Ted Wheeler told an assembled crowd on Saturday that the victims gave him hope and demonstrated that “there are still people in Oregon who will stand up for the right thing no matter what the consequences.”