The attack occurred at the Hollywood Transit Center. Police Sgt. Pete Simpson said a white male on the train had insulted several people. Witnesses say some of his remarks were directed at two women on the train who appeared to be Muslim.
“The suspect was on the MAX train yelling various remarks that would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions,” Simpson wrote in a press release.
A group of people attempted to intervene, and the man began stabbing them. One person died at the scene. A second victim died later while receiving medical care. A third person was injured in the attack but is expected to survive.
Police arrested the suspect, and later identified him as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, of North Portland. Court records show Christian is a convicted felon with prior charges from 2010 including robbery, kidnapping, and possession of a stolen revolver.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Christian had made several posts on social media espousing racist views and white separatism.
OPB had also observed Christian at a clash last month in East Portland between critics and supporters of President Donald Trump. At that rally, Christian had loudly shouted racial slurs and made Nazi salutes.
Simpson said that although the attack happened just hours before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, police are not certain at this time if the attack was religiously motivated.
“Our thoughts are with the Muslim community,” Simpson said at a press conference after the attack. “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.”
The news did not stop many in Portland’s Muslim community from gathering at local mosques on the eve of Ramadan. In Southwest Portland, families and worshippers left evening prayer at the Islamic Center of Portland, or Masjed As-Saber, Oregon’s largest mosque.
“We are very sad. Ramadan started just a couple hours ago,” said Imtiaz Khan, President of the Islamic Center of Portland. “We are very sorry for the two men who tried to do the right thing.”
Khan condemned the attack and believes similar acts of hate speech and harassment toward the Muslim community have gone up since the election.
“Of course people from the Muslim community are concerned. And unfortunately the easy targets are women because of the headscarf,” said Khan.
Just a few weeks ago, the Islamic Center of Portland had opened its doors to the public for its annual open house ahead of the holy month of Ramadan. Khan said it was a time of sharing and understanding, not just for the mosque’s neighbors in Southwest Portland, but for residents in the greater Portland area.
“It’s just so sad to see this happening in Portland,” he said.