A man who police say hurled anti-Islamic slurs at two teenage girls on a rush-hour train in Oregon and fatally stabbed two men who tried to calm him down has been charged with murder, police said Saturday.
Jeremy Joseph Christian was being held in the Multnomah County Jail Saturday, a day after the attack. The 35 year-old man spent time in prison for robbery and kidnapping charges years ago.
Christian is also charged with stabbing a third man. That victim also tried to settle him down. He survived the attack which took place on a light rail train as it made stops in downtown Portland.
Christian was arrested as he tried to flee through a downtown neighborhood.
"He was saying that Muslims should die," Dyjuana Hudson, the mother of one of the girls told the Oregonian. "That they've been killing Christians for years."
She said her daughter Destinee Hudson, 16, is black, and her daughter's friend, 17, is Muslim. The friend was wearing a hijab.
"He had been acting up the whole ride, pretty much from the time he got on till 42nd," Hudson told the paper.
She quoted one of the men who was stabbed as saying, "You can't get at them like that — they're little girls."
The names of the victims have not been released.
"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 Oregonian.
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, according to the Associated Press. A memorial of flowers and signs quickly grew at the scene by a transit station.
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.
"It was so random, the event in his life. It made no sense that he did this at his age. He had no background like this, no history of violence and then he goes and gets a gun and robs a store," Kaplan told The AP.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.