PORTLAND, Ore.: Police said Saturday they’ll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of a man accused of fatally stabbing two men on a train who tried to intervene when the suspect yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim.
The attack Friday 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, and a vigil was planned.
“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.”
Jeremy Joseph 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 on Friday.
He will make a first court appearance Tuesday, and it wasn’t clear if he had an attorney. 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 John Best, 53, of Happy Valley, Ore., and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, of Portland. Police say Best died at the scene and that Meche died at a hospital.
Meche’s mother, Asha Deliverance of Ashland, Ore., confirmed on Facebook that her son had been killed. She did not immediately return a call to her business phone listing or a message sent through social media.
“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 degree in economics, the college said on its website. 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.”
Police say Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, of Portland was also stabbed in the attack and is in serious condition at a 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,” Wheeler said.
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.
Dyjuana Hudson, a mother of one of the girls, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the man began a racial tirade as soon as he spotted the women. 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.”
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 is charged with two counts of intimidation, the state equivalent of a hate crime.