Two men were killed and a third wounded when they tried to prevent a known criminal and racist from harassing two teenage girls. The mayor called on politicians to stop promoting extreme attitudes towards immigration.
The mayor of Portland, Oregon hailed two locals as "heroes" late on Saturday after they lost their lives trying to prevent a man from harassing teenagers with an Islamophobic rant. The violence has shocked a city famous throughout the US for its tolerance and progressive views.
"These two men died heroes as a result of a horrific act of racist violence. Their actions were brave and selfless and should serve as an example, an inspiration to us all," said mayor Ted Wheeler.
The incident began on Friday evening, just hours before the beginning of Ramadan. A man approached two girls on a commuter train, one of whom was wearing an Islamic headscarf or hijab. He then allegedly began "ranting and raving," as the police put it, threatening the girls and using "hate speech."
"He was saying that Muslims should die," said Dyjuana Hudson, the mother of one of the girls.
The suspect was then confronted by three men - Ricky John Best, 53, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21 - who tried to stop the abuse.
Local news reports described Best as a father of four and Meche as a recent university graduate who was being mourned by his alma mater, Reed College.
The assailant, later identified by police as 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, allegedly responded by repeatedly stabbing all three men. Best died at the scene while Meche passed away after being brought to the hospital. Fletcher is expected to recover from his wounds.
"He was a hero and will remain a hero on the other side of the veil. Shining bright star I love you forever," Meche's mother wrote on Facebook. A small memorial to the victims started to crop up around the train station near where the attack occurred, and a vigil was held there on Saturday night.
Suspect had criminal history, racist views
Christian was arrested shortly after the incident by Portland police and brought to Multnomah County Jail on charges of aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a weapon. He was set to appear before a judge for his initial hearing on Tuesday.
The attacker had a long criminal history and was known to harbor racist views. In 2002 he was convicted of robbery and kidnapping after he held up a convenience store at gunpoint. He regularly expressed sympathy for Nazi and white supremacist figures on social media, and recently praised Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
According to the FBI, it was too early to say if Christian could be charged with a federal hate crime, but the intimidation charges are the Oregon equivalent to hate crime.
"Violent words can lead to violent acts," said mayor Wheeler, decrying how immigration has become a flashpoint across the country. "All elected leaders in America...must work deliberately to change our political dialogue."