PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Muslims in Portland, Oregon, thanked the community for its support and said they were raising money for the families of two men who were killed when they came to the defense of two young women — one wearing a hijab — who were targeted by an anti-Muslim rant.
“I am very thankful as a Muslim, I am very thankful as a Portlander … that we stand together here as one,” Muhammad A. Najieb, an imam at the Muslim Community Center, said Saturday.
The two young women “could have been the victims, but three heroes jumped in and supported them,” he said.
A fundraising page launched by his group for the families of the dead men, a surviving victim and the two young women had raised more than $300,000 by Sunday evening.
Police said they’ll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of suspect Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, who is accused of killing the two men Friday. Christian’s social media postings indicate an affinity for Nazis and political violence.
Messages left at the home of Christian’s mother were not immediately returned.
The attack occurred on a light-rail train on the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims.
Christian was being held 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 when he was confronted by other men.
One of the victims of the hate speech is sending her thanks to those who came to her defense, according to KPTV.
Destinee Mangum, 16, told the station on Saturday that she and her 17-year-old friend were riding the train when Jeremy Christian approached them yelling what is described as hate speech. She said her friend is Muslim, but she’s not.
“He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia, and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country,” Mangum said. “He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should kill ourselves.”
The girls were scared and moved to the back of the train while a stranger jumped in to help.
“Me and my friend were going to get off the MAX and then we turned around while they were fighting and he just started stabbing people and it was just blood everywhere and we just started running for our lives,” Mangum said.
Alvin Hall said had just stepped off the train on Friday when he saw a man bleeding from the neck, KATU-TV reported. Hall said his instincts kicked in and he went after the suspect.
“My first process was, ‘What can I do? Where did he go?’ and someone said, ‘He ran over to the bridge,’ ” Hall said. “So I just took up running from the bridge up the stairs.”
He said he met Chase Robinson and Larry Blackwell, and the three men confronted the suspect, who turned on them with a knife.
“The minute he saw me he started coming after me. He’s like, ‘You want some of me, you’re a snitch, come on after me, you want some of this?’ and started chasing me,” Hall said.
Soon, police arrived and took the suspect into custody.
Christian will make his first court appearance in the case Tuesday, and it wasn’t clear if he had an attorney. No one answered the phone at his Portland home.
Police identified the men killed as Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley, Oregon, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, of Portland. Mayor Ted Wheeler said Best was an Army veteran and a city employee. Meche earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2016 from Reed College in Portland and landed a job with the Cadmus Group, a consulting firm in the area.
Police say Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, of Portland was also stabbed and is in serious condition at a Portland hospital. Police say his injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.
Fletcher is a student at Portland State University and was taking the train from classes to his job at a pizza shop when the attack occurred. In 2013, Fletcher won a 2013 poetry competition, the Verselandia poetry slam, with a poem condemning prejudices faced by Muslims, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Police said one of the two young women on the train was wearing a hijab. The assailant was ranting on many topics, using “hate speech or biased language,” police Sgt. Pete Simpson said.
The FBI said it’s too early to say whether the slayings qualify as a federal hate crime. However, Christian faces intimidation charges, the state equivalent of a hate crime.
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 crowd around him. The Oregonian/OregonLive also had video from the April 29 march showing Christian.
Simpson confirmed the man in the videos was Christian.
On what appears to be Christian’s Facebook page, he showed sympathy for Nazis and Timothy McVeigh, who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.