PORTLAND, OR (AP) — A man who police say fatally stabbed two people who tried to stop him from yelling anti-Islamic slurs on a Portland light-rail train spent time in prison for robbery and kidnapping charges years ago, according to court records and a defense attorney.
Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, was being held Saturday in the Multnomah County Jail on suspicion of aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a weapon.
He will make a first court appearance Monday, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney. A phone at his home in Portland rang unanswered early Saturday.
Two people died Friday night and another was hurt in the stabbing after police say Christian yelled racial slurs at two young women, one of whom was wearing a Muslim head covering. The assailant on the train was ranting on many topics, using “hate speech or biased language,” according to a statement from police.
Friday was the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims, and the attack prompted soul-searching in Portland, a city that prides itself on its tolerance and liberal views. A memorial of flowers and signs quickly grew at the scene by a transit station.
“There is too much hatred in our world right now, and far too much violence. Too much of it has arrived here in Portland,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said in Facebook post.
Wheeler was on the inaugural direct flight from the Oregon city to London when the attack occurred. He said he boarded the first flight back and was due to arrive Saturday afternoon.
Dyjuana Hudson, a mother of one of the girls, told The Oregonian/OregonLive (http://bit.ly/2qurEGz) that the man began a racial tirade as soon as he spotted the girls. 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 attack happened on a MAX train as it headed east. A train remained stopped on the tracks at a transit center that was closed while police investigated.
Autopsies on the victims were being done Saturday. Their names have not been made public.
Police say the victims were trying to stop Christian from confronting the girls.
“In the midst of his ranting and raving, some people approached him and appeared to try to intervene with his behavior and some of the people that he was yelling at,” police Sgt. Pete Simpson told the Portland newspaper. “They were attacked viciously.”
Neighbors who live next to Christian’s parents’ house — which was also his last listed address in court records — said the family was quiet and they often saw Christian’s two adult brothers but never him.
One neighbor, Kenny Jenkins, said he occasionally saw Christian riding his bike around the neighborhood.
The neighborhood where the Christians live is on the northern outskirts of Portland, an area that has been rapidly gentrifying in recent years because it remains one of the last affordable sections of the city. The homes immediately surrounding the Christian residence now hold biracial families moving from out-of-state and same-sex couples, Jenkins said.
Jenkins said his family recently moved in, and Christian’s father helped carry boxes.
“The parents are very quiet. The dad was always helpful,” he said. “Good people.”
Despite the changing neighborhood, the Christians have lived in their modest, two-story off-white house for decades, next-door neighbor Ron Killgore said.
“We would have a brief conversations. Every time they were out gardening, we would chat,” Killgore said. “Just a few days ago I saw them out, doing something in the flower bed out front.”
Christian has had several encounters with the law.
In 2002, Christian, then 20, was arrested and charged with first-degree robbery and second-degree kidnapping after he rode to a convenience store on his bike and held up employees there with a gun, according to court records and his court-appointed defense attorney at the time, Matthew Kaplan.
When police caught up with him, Christian aimed the gun at himself in a suicide attempt before he was shot and injured by police, Kaplan said.
Christian was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after striking a plea deal that eliminated coercion and weapons charges.
Kaplan said he remembers the case vividly because Christian was so young, so earnest and had never been in trouble before. At the time, the attorney suspected the onset of mental illness to explain his actions and worried about how he would deal with a long prison sentence.
Christian had another brush with the law in 2010, when he was arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and theft. Those charges were dismissed, according to court records, which do not explain why.