A man who was heard yelling slurs, hate speech, and anti-Muslim comments is in custody today after an incident late Friday afternoon aboard a Portland, Oregon commuter train that left two people dead. As The Oregonian reports, police arrested 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian on suspicion of aggravated murder and attempted murder, as well as being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon, and he was booked early Saturday morning in connection with Friday's incident on the MAX light-rail train.
As NBC News describes it, the incident may have begun with Christian verbally attacking two young women, believed to be Muslim, one of whom was wearing a hijab. Around 4:30 p.m. Friday, witnesses say Christian was spewing hateful speech about a variety of things aboard the train, only some of which was directed at the women, and at least three men tried to intervene and get Christian to calm down. It was then that he allegedly stabbed three men, two of them fatally, and then fled the train at the Hollywood transit center in Northeast Portland. Police soon captured Christian in the neighborhood near Providence Portland Medical Center.
One man died at the scene, and another at the hospital, while the third man is expected to survive. One man was reportedly stabbed in the stomach, and another had his throat slashed.
Portland police Sgt. Pete Simpson tells NBC News, "It's horrific. There's no other word to describe what happened today."
Simpson further told The Oregonian of the suspect, "We don't know if he's got mental health issues. We don't know if he's under the influence of drugs or alcohol or all of the above." He added that according to witnesses, "He was talking about a lot of different things, not just specifically anti-Muslim."
One witness who was on the train tells NBC affiliate KGW, "He was saying something about America, this is a free country, I can do whatever I want, and the other people [were] saying you know, calm down, or shut up. He got agitated."
Another train passenger, Evelin Hernandez, tells local station KATU that Christian was referring to Muslims as criminals, and said, "He said, ‘Get off the bus, and get out of the country because you don’t pay taxes here.'"
Simpson tells the Oregonian that police are still seeking other witnesses who left the scene, including the two young woman at whom some of Christian's comments were allegedly directed.
Portland's transit agency, TriMet, tweeted about the incident Friday night.
(1/3)Blue, Green, Red resuming regular service but Hollywood TC remains closed due to police activity. Expect delays thru end of service.— TriMet (@trimet) May 27, 2017
(2/3)We are deeply saddened. Our thoughts & prayers are with loved ones of those lost & with person injured.— TriMet (@trimet) May 27, 2017
(3/3)Every person has a right to live in this country without fear.— TriMet (@trimet) May 27, 2017
Portland is home to an estimated 50,000 Muslim Americans, and Friday marked the beginning of Ramadan, monthlong period of fasting.
Simpson said in a statement, ""Our thoughts are with the Muslim community. As something like this happens, this only instills fear in that community. We have already reached out previous to this incident to our Muslim community partners and the different imams about extra patrol during Ramadan. We want to reassure them that that will continue."