Even with headphones on, Rachel Macy said, she heard a man shouting and spewing foul language as soon as he boarded the eastbound MAX Green Line train Friday night at Lloyd Center.
“He was just being really belligerent and loud,” she said.
The man, since identified as Jeremy Joseph Christian, entered through doors on one side of the train, and stepped across the aisle to a pole by the doors on the opposite side of the train.
“He was screaming that he was a taxpayer, that colored people were ruining the city, and he had First Amendment rights,” Macy said.
Then he made anti-Muslim slurs.
“I didn’t want to look. I was too afraid. It felt really tense,” said the 45-year-old Southeast Portland resident of Native American descent. “I’m a woman of color. I didn’t want him to notice me.”
The seats on the train were all taken, and other passengers were standing but it hadn’t reached the rush-hour crush yet as the train headed toward the Hollywood station around 4:30 p.m., she said.
Macy noticed a young man quickly brush past her seat, while talking on the phone. He looked nervous and was moving away from Christian. Something didn’t feel right, she said. She’d later learn that was Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23.
Rick Best, 53, stood closest to Christian. He was trying to calm Christian down, by letting him know he had heard him.
“He was repeating back what this guy was saying. Like, ‘I know you’re a taxpayer. But this is not OK, that he was scaring people,’ ” recalled Macy, whose account provides the most detailed chronology of the chaos that ensued.
Christian didn’t seem to respond; just kept shouting. “He was not hearing anybody, just talking louder,” she said.
At one point, the train operator got on the loudspeaker, saying something like whoever is creating the disturbance needed to exit the train immediately, Macy said. The operator also threatened to call police.
Christian screamed out that he was getting off the train at the next stop, and that “if anyone (expletive) followed, they were going to die,” Macy recalled.
Namkai-Meche turned back toward Christian and briskly walked over to him, and loudly implored him, “You need to get off this train. Please, get off this train.”
Passengers Best, Namkai-Mache and a third man, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, were trying to deescalate the tense situation, intervene and get Christian off the train, she said. Macy said she didn’t know where the two teenage girls who were the target of his racist rants were seated. She said it appeared as if the men who were stabbed “were trying to be a barrier” between Christian and the girls.
Someone attempted to move Christian away from the girls he was verbally harassing with a slight push or shove. “Touch me again, or I’m going to kill you,” Macy heard Christian respond.
Namkai-Meche was holding up his phone, Macy said. She wasn’t sure if Namkai-Meche was trying to show Christian something on the phone or was recording the interaction.
Suddenly, Christian hit the phone away and stabbed Namkai-Meche in the neck, she said.
“It was just a swift, hard hit,” she said. “It was a nightmare.”
Macy said she didn’t know which man was slashed with the knife first but believes the train may have been just pulling into the Hollywood station or had just stopped when the stabbings occurred.
The attacker looked at the other passengers, cursed at them and then fled.
“One minute people were on the train, and the next minute, next to nobody,” she recalled.
Best didn’t take more than a few steps and fell to the floor, she said. At least two men came to his aid. “Stay with us. You are strong. Stay with us,” she recalled them saying.
Michael Kennedy was one of those men. He came up to the front car from the second car of the train, as other passengers raced away from the commotion. In written messages to The Oregonian/OregonLive, he said he and two other men started CPR chest compressions on Best until emergency medics arrived.
“It never occurred to me to do otherwise,” wrote Kennedy. He said his training as a paramedic from more than a decade ago kicked in.
Namkai-Meche stumbled along the aisle away from Christian past Macy. She turned to face him. His flannel shirt was covered with blood; his face pale.
Holding his neck, he said, “I’m going to die,” according to Macy.
“I looked at him and said, ‘we can handle this. Lay down.’ ”
He lay on the floor of the train. Macy crouched beside him, pulled off her black tank top and gave it to Namkai-Meche. He pressed the shirt to his neck wound. She placed her hand over his.
She noticed a deep, long gash along Namkai-Meche’s neck.
Another man who she described as a veteran also tried to comfort Namkai-Meche and keep him from panicking. He told Namkai-Mache that his heart was beating, and he was OK, pointing out the sound of sirens and help on its way.
“I just kept telling him, ‘You’re not alone. We’re here,” Macy said. “What you did was total kindness. You’re such a beautiful man. I’m sorry the world is so cruel.”
And she prayed.
“When I said ‘pray with me,’ he just closed his eyes and tried to keep breathing,” she recalled.
Fletcher stumbled off the train holding his neck, she said.
Macy remained on the train until police and emergency medics arrived. Medical personnel tried to work on Best but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Medics put Namkai-Meche on a stretcher. Macy stayed by his side. Before he was carried away, he had a last message, she said: “Tell everyone on this train I love them. ”
Macy, who is studying psychology at the Cascade campus of Portland Community College, left her leather school bag, purse and cell phone behind and then stepped back to where Best was lying. She prayed for him and his family.
“I was saying, ‘Creator – provide comfort to his family who don’t know you’re here,” she recalled.
An officer called out to her: “You did what you could, it’s time to come off the train.”
Once she stepped off, she realized she was only wearing a slip on top. Police interviewed witnesses on the Hollywood station platform. About 20 minutes had passed when she learned from an officer that Namkai-Meche had died at a local hospital.
The next night, Macy met Namkai-Meche’s mother and father at a vigil held by the train stop. She handed his father a purple-painted, heart-shaped rock, her prayer rock. She said the victim’s parents thanked her for being with their son, telling her that she was “a mamma to our boy in that moment.”
Macy, a single mother of five children who rides the MAX to and from her community college courses at least three times a week, said she just did “what had to be done.”
“I just kept thinking this is someone’s child,” she said.
But Macy said it was Best, Namkai-Meche and Fletcher who she called “angels walking among us” because they took a risk and stood up to defend others against Christian’s racist rants.
“This man was so reckless and filled with hate,” Macy recalled of Christian. “None of it makes sense. That’s what’s so sad.”