Muslims among those raising funds as solidarity soars, but fears simmer over planned ’anti-Sharia’ march after attack.
Muslims in Portland thanked the community for its support as they raised money for the victims of a deadly attack on a train by an Islamophobic white supremacist.
On Friday, Jeremy Joseph Christian - a 35-year-old who was known to authorities - fatally slit the throats of 53-year-old Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, after they stepped in to defend two girls Christian was bullying.
One of the girls is Muslim and was wearing the hijab.
A third victim, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, was also stabbed in the attack.
Fletcher - who in 2013 performed a poem condemning Islamophobia - is in serious condition in hospital, but expected to survive.
"I am very thankful as a Muslim, I am very thankful as a Portlander ... that we stand together here as one," Muhammad Najieb, an imam at the Muslim Community Centre, told the AP news agency.
The two young women "could have been the victims, but three heroes jumped in and supported them", he said.
Destinee Mangum, one of the girls Christian was abusing, told Fox 12 Oregon KPTV: "I just want to say thank you to the people that put their life on the line for me. They lost their lives because of me and my friend, and the way we looked."
Crying as her voice shook, she added: "I appreciate them. Without them, we probably would be dead right now."
A fundraising page launched by Najieb’s group for the families of the victims, including the two young women, had raised $50,000 in its first hours.
In total, various pages have raised almost one million dollars for the victims and their families.
By the time of publishing on Monday, Muslims Unite for Portland Heroes had raised $326,593; Tri Met Hero Recovery (for the surviving victim) gathered $133,635; Girls who survived Portland’s MAX attack raised $13,084 and Tri Met Heroes received $365,056.
Anti-Muslim march to go ahead
On April 29, local reporter Mike Bivins filmed Christian at a march by the far right.
In the footage, Christian was draped in an American Revolutionary War flag and could be seen performing a Nazi salute and heard shouting "Die Muslims. Die fake Christians. Die Jews", as police watched on.
Joey Gibson, who organised that rally, is behind another march planned for June 4.
While there was solidarity in the Oregon city, there were concerns of more unrest ahead of Gibson’s "Portland march against Sharia".
Similar rallies, held under the guise of free speech, are widely believed to be fascist in nature.
"We gotta come together on June 4," said organiser Joey Gibson, in a video posted to his Facebook page. "We need to stand up for what we believe in."
Gibson distanced himself from Christian in the clip, but urged his followers to pray for the suspect.
Police said they will examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of Christian, whose social media postings indicate an affinity for Nazis and political violence.
The attack occurred on a light-rail train on the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims.
Christian was being held 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 when he was confronted by other men, and will face court on Tuesday.
The FBI said it is too early to say whether the slayings qualify as a federal hate crime. However, Christian faces intimidation charges, the state equivalent of a hate crime.
Court records show Christian served prison time for first-degree robbery and second-degree kidnapping after a crime committed 15 years ago, when he was 20, and theft and weapons charges were dismissed in 2010.