Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler touted the “heroes” who tried to intervene when a man on a train yelled racist slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim.
The attack occurred Friday, on the first day of Ramadan – the holiest time of the year for Muslims. It sent shockwaves through a city that prides itself on tolerance and liberal values.
"These two men died heroes as a result of a horrific act of racist violence. Their actions were brave and selfless and should serve as an example, an inspiration to us all. They are heroes," Wheeler said.
Police identified the victims as Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, of Portland. Police said Best died at the scene and that Meche died at a hospital.
Police said one of the two young women on the train was wearing a hijab. The assailant was ranting on many topics, using "hate speech or biased language," police Sgt. Pete Simpson said.
Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, was being held in the Multnomah County Jail on suspicion of aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a weapon. He was arrested a short time after the attack.
Dyjuana Hudson, a mother of one of the girls, told The Oregonian that the man began a racist 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."
Court records show Christian served prison time for first-degree robbery and second-degree kidnapping after a crime committed 15 years ago and theft and weapons charges were dismissed in 2010.
The Portland Mercury, one of the city's alternative weeklies, posted an article on its website saying Christian showed up at a free speech march in late April with a baseball bat to confront protesters and the bat was confiscated by police.
The article included video clips of a man wearing a metal chain around his neck and draped in an American flag shouting "I'm a nihilist! This is my safe place!" as protesters crowd around him.
Simpson confirmed the man in the videos was Christian and said investigators were aware of them. He declined to comment further.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.