Three men were stabbed in the throat on a train in Oregan after standing up for two young women being harassed in their carriage, witnesses said.
The stunned residents of Portland, Oregon have rallied around the families of two men who were brutally murdered and another who was seriously hurt while trying to help a pair of young women being harassed on a train by a man who took them for Muslims.
All three men were stabbed viciously in the throat by a suspect police identified as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35. A known local white supremacist, he was arrested after onlookers chased the blood-soaked man as he tried to flee and then pointed him out to police.
The attack unfolded in just 10 minutes on a crowded train full of people heading off for the three-day Memorial Day weekend, a time for somber tributes to those killed in war but also the celebratory, if unofficial, beginning of the summer vacation season.
Witnesses said Christian raged against a 17-year-old Muslim girl in a hijab and her 16-year-old African-American friend, identified by the Oregonian newspaper as Destinee Hudson.
"He was saying that Muslims should die," Destinee's mother, Dyjuana Hudson, told the newspaper. "That they've been killing Christians for years."
At that point, the three men tried to intervene. Hudson quoted one as saying: "You can't get at them like that -- they're little girls."
After slashing the three, the suspect bolted from the train. When police approached him, he begged them to kill him, the Oregonian reported, but they were finally able to subdue him.
Charged with two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted murder, Christian is being held without bail.
A video posted by the Oregonian purportedly shows Christian in an April "free speech" demonstration, shouting "Die Muslims!" as he walks along draped in an American flag.
Although local police said Christian had used "hate speech" during the attack, a statement Saturday from FBI Special Agent Loren Cannon said it was "too early to say whether last night's violence was an act of domestic terrorism or a federal hate crime."
The incident has deeply shaken Portland, a verdant, youthful and politically progressive city in the US northwest known for its tolerance, population of hipsters and environmentally friendly ways.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said she was heartbroken by the deaths of Rick John Best, 53, a retired army veteran, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, a recent college graduate, as well as the serious wounding of Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, a poet and music student whose jaw was broken in the attack.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who flew home from a business trip in London after learning of the attack, praised the men as "heroes" who were "all attacked because they did the right thing."
Muhammad Najieb, an imam at the Portland Muslim Community Center, said that the local community stood together as one.
"I am very thankful as a Muslim, I am very thankful as a Portlander," he told ABC News America.
The two young women "could have been the victims, but three heroes jumped in and supported them," he said.
Local Muslim groups, friends and good Samaritans have set up crowd-funding campaigns for the victims' families, cumulatively raising over $700,000 US.
The attack occurred on the first day of Ramadan, a major Islamic religious holiday.
Community members held candlelight vigils to honour the three victims and plead for solidarity against hatred and intolerance. At a vigil Saturday near the train station, nearly 1,000 people gathered around a mound of bouquets and photographs, praising the men as heroes and saying they hoped others would stand up against hate.
Friends and family members described Best, Meche and Fletcher as reliable, well-liked men whose selfless bravery came as no surprise.
Fletcher, the survivor, won a poetry contest in 2013 with a poem condemning anti-Muslim prejudice.
Kareen Perkins, Best's supervisor, said his coworkers agreed that "it's just like Rick to step in and help somebody out."
Best, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was married and had four children.
Christopher Landt told the Oregonian that Meche, a childhood friend, was someone who "would never forget about you."
"If he knew he was going to die, he still would have done what he did."