PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The mayor of Portland hailed as "heroes" two men who were stabbed to death trying to protect two women police say were the target of an anti-Muslim rant by a man on a light-rail train, a crime that shocked this city that prides itself on its tolerance.
Police said they'll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, who is accused of killing the men Friday. Christian's social media postings indicate an affinity for Nazis and political violence.
The attack happened on the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims. It sent shockwaves through Portland. A memorial where the stabbing occurred grew steadily Saturday and there were night time vigils.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney for Oregon said Saturday they are working with police in Portland to investigate the fatal stabbing of two men on a light-rail train who authorities say intervened when another man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared Muslim.
The FBI says it's too early to say whether the slayings Friday qualify as a federal hate crime, but U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams said "there's a day of reckoning coming, a day of accountability."
Christian is being held in the Multnomah County Jail on suspicion of aggravated murder and attempted murder.
Authorities say the stabbing occurred after a man yelled racial slurs at two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, and other men attempted to intervene on a MAX light-rail train.
Mayor Ted Wheeler decried the charged national political environment surrounding immigration, saying, "Violent words can lead to violent acts."
He also said the two men who were fatally stabbed when they intervened "died heroes."
"Their actions were brave and selfless and should serve as an example, an inspiration to us all," the mayor said.
Police said 53-year-old Ricky John Best of Happy Valley, Oregon, died at the scene on Friday, and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche of Portland died at a hospital.
Police said 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher of Portland was also stabbed in the attack and is in serious condition at a Portland hospital.
Wheeler said Best was an Army veteran and a city employee.
Police say they'll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of the suspect.
Police in a statement Saturday also say Christian doesn't have any known mental health history listed and he's not flagged as a criminal gang member.
He's scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.
Court records located by The Associated Press on Saturday show that Christian was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and a weapons charge in 2002.
Meanwhile, other Oregon officials also weighed in on the attack.
Statement from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum:
“My heart goes out to the families and friends of the three heroes who, while riding the max train in Portland last night, bravely took action against hate speech. We mourn the loss of two of them and pray for the recovery of the third. Thank you to law enforcement and witnesses who helped ensure immediate apprehension of the perpetrator. We honor our Muslim community which was so horribly disrespected on the eve of the Holy Month of Ramadan. Our entire state must come together to, once and for all, eradicate hatred and bigotry in whatever form.
"If you believe that you or someone you know has been the victim of a hate crime, you should report the crime to your local police, county sheriff, or the Oregon State Police.
"We also encourage you to report a crime to the Oregon Department of Justice using our online form at: https://justice.oregon.gov/crimereporting/hatecrime.
"The Oregon Department of Justice will ensure your report is passed on to the appropriate authority for investigation.”
Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley released the following statement on Friday’s attack on the MAX train in Portland:
“This was a terrible tragedy. Champions of justice risked and lost their lives. With all Oregonians, I stand with the families of those heroes.
“And we all stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters who have had to face discrimination and fear. Actions and words of hate are unacceptable, and un-American.
“This horrific attack was a stark reminder of the evil of hate. No community should have to suffer that evil. And it is up to each of us to overcome it.
“As Portlanders, as Oregonians, and as Americans we must stand together to defy hate; to show that the spirit of those good Samaritans is stronger than evil; and that compassion, courage and love will prevail.”
House Republican Leader Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte) issued the following statement regarding the deadly attack that took place in Portland:
“Evil struck the city of Portland last night and ripped a hole in the heart of Oregon and her people. The Oregonians who lost their lives standing up against hatred will be remembered by many as heroes. Our hearts grieve for them, their families and for all those impacted by yesterday’s senseless violence. May we keep them in our thoughts and prayers in the days ahead and as we work to bring peace and healing to our communities.”