July 07, 2020

The MAX Incident and Aftermath

I recently got some news from my friend Thomas, in Portland, that I found to come at a good time amidst all of the craziness of 2020.

This involves a hate crime regarding race (from a few years ago) and because it struck rather close to me, I still think of it every so often.

In May 2017, I went to Portland to visit with my BFF. Whenever I go visit, I arrive at the airport and take the MAX (a light rail train system for public transportation that goes all over the city). Each train only has two cars, and it's a simple step-on step-off type system. I was really proud of myself for learning how to use it and being comfortable enough to do it myself! Especially from the airport.

By 2017, I knew the deal... go to the front of the airport and purchase a ticket for the MAX from a kiosk. Then you just step outside and the MAX will arrive shortly after (they run every five minutes or so).

The plan is that I buy my ticket, hop on the MAX, and then take it to a station that is convenient for Thomas to meet me. At that time, I was probably hypomanic due to starting new medications. Regardless, I was in a great mood when I stepped in line to buy my ticket. I was so excited to get on the MAX and go hang out with my friend!

I went to the kiosk and was in line behind a man who was taking a very long time getting his ticket. I don't think he spoke English, because when I offered to help, he seemed confused. So, I waited impatiently for him to finish, because after nearly five hours on a flight, I wanted to get moving!

Finally, I was able to purchase my ticket and stepped outside just as the MAX was leaving. So, I sat and waited for the next one. I sat down and texted Thomas, letting him know that I was on my way. At each stop, I told him, "Hey, I'm at such-and-such station!"

At one station, the train stopped to let people off. It was taking longer than usual for the train to start again. Eventually, people on the train were looking around, confused as to why it was taking so long. After a while, the conductor said that there was a delay and we'd get going soon. So, I waited a little longer.

I texted Thomas, asking what I should do. Then the conductor said that there was in incident in the train in front of us and that he wasn't sure how long it would take to get moving again. He didn't tell us what the "incident" was. Thomas texted me and said to just get off the train and walk to a particular building nearby and he would pick me up there in 20 minutes or so.

It was nice outside, so I dragged my suitcase over to a nearby building and just sat in the shade, enjoying just being there in Portland.

Eventually, Thomas showed up to pick me up, and all was good. The MAX still hadn't moved.

I totally forgot about the incident until the next day when I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone. I saw a headline that totally shocked me:

The story wasn't 100% clear that point, because the article was written just hours later. But here is the gist of what happened via this recent article.

There were two teenage black girls, Destinee Mangum, 16, and her friend, Walia Mohamed, 17. Mohamed is an immigrant from Somalia, and was wearing a hijab while on the MAX.

(Note: Because this post is regarding the sensitive topic of racism, I am not sure what words are politically correct because it seems to constantly be changing. So I really do not mean any offense if I use the wrong words regarding race--please correct me if I'm wrong).

According to the article, Jeremy Christian [the suspect] launched a racist, xenophobic rant on the crowded MAX train on May 26, 2017:
Witnesses said Christian [the suspect] unleashed a vile torrent about Muslims, Christians and Jews dying, spoke of beheadings and shouted, “Go home, we need American here!” Christian said he was exercising his right to free speech, and trying to get a reaction from the crowd.
Later, in an interview on LitHub.com, the girls described it like this:
"Destinee Mangum: We weren’t even supposed to be on the train that day. We got lost. We were on the train in the afternoon, when Christian got on at Lloyd Center. It’s a main stop in central Portland. For like eight minutes, he just yelled at us: “You’re nothing”; “Kill yourself”; “Get out of this country”; “Burn.” 
Walia Mohamed: “Muslims should die.” “Go back to Saudi Arabia.” As soon as he got on the train, he started yelling at us. It’s like our faces were a trigger. I felt like he was attacking me because I was wearing a hijab; Destinee was wearing something on her head, too. He was yelling stuff about Muslims and Christians as well. Plus, we’re both black. He was racist and didn’t like that either."

Two men on the train stepped between Christian and the teen girls--Taliesin Namkai-Menche, 23 years old, and Micah Fletcher, 21 years old. A man named Ricky Best, 53, was standing near Christian. Christian then shoved Namkai-Menche and Fletcher. Fletcher responded by shoving Christian a few times and telling him to get off the train.

(There are a few articles that said Best also stepped in, but the evidence presented at trial said he was "an innocent passenger standing next to Christian"; so I'm not sure which account is correct.)

Very quickly, Christian pulled out a knife and stabbed Namkai-Menche and Fletcher in their necks. Then Christian stabbed Best as well, even though Best had only been standing near him; Christian later stated, "I just assessed he was a threat," Christian said. "...He ended up collateral damage."

Namkai-Meche and Best each died of their injuries. Fletcher was wounded, but survived and testified at Christian's trial, which took place January 28, 2020. The sentencing was Wednesday, June 24.

Christian blamed Fletcher for the stabbings, saying, "Where I was brought up in North Portland, we defend ourselves. I did not commit an act of violence on that train."

He continued: “I do regret that two people died, but I do not regret my actions.”

And most shocking (to me): He said he unfairly has been labeled a racist.

Here is a photo of Christian at trial:

Several witnesses gave victim impact statements at the trial, some saying that they suffer from nightmares and PTSD.

This is why it hits me so hard, I think. The conductor had said there was "an incident" on the train in front of us, which was why we couldn't get moving... and I always wonder if that man at the airport hadn't taken so long to buy his ticket, would I have been on that train? What would I have done if a man started harassing two teen girls because of their race? I would like to say I'd try to be a hero and step in, but I honestly think I'd be too scared to.

I'm very lucky that I wasn't on that train because I can't even imagine the horror that the other passengers felt. I think it's amazing and heroic that the men stepped in for the girls, and so tragic that two men lost their lives while trying to help.

A photo of Taliesin Namkai-Meche, who passed away after being stabbed for stepping between Christian and the two targeted teen girls:

A photo of Ricky Best, a military veteran who also passed away after being stabbed by Christian. He left behind a wife, three sons, and a daughter:

A photo of Micah Fletcher, who survived the attack, and had a happy reunion with Destinee, one of the targeted girls on the train (along with her family):

The whole thing had me reeling when it happened, and like I said, I still think of it often. I was very curious to see what Christian's sentence would be, but since it's been three years, I hadn't searched for it much anymore on Google.

Thomas texted me after the sentencing to say that Christian received a life sentence without parole! I was thrilled to hear that. While there really isn't "justice" for a crime like this, at least he won't ever again be out on the streets to attack people for no reason other than the color of their skin. My heart breaks for the families of those that were impacted by what had happened. Reading the interview with the two girls was hard--I can't imagine what it would be like to be in that position.

Despite the horrible incident and the aftermath, I'm glad that this guy was sentenced to life in prison!


  1. Wow... How crazy and scary to think you could have been in that position :( I also think I would have been too scared to intervene :( Especially thinking of my own kids... And how amazing is it that there are people that will do so anyway... risk and give up their lives for others, for strangers... it's gut-wrenching that that they will, that anyone should ever have to <3

    1. It would be such a hard decision to make, and I imagine those men didn't even think twice. They saw two girls being harassed and tried to stop it. It's heartbreaking.

  2. Wow, I'm glad you didn't have to witness that! That dude is so disturbing.

    I think this post may have some unconscious bias though - of the three victims, you seem to have only referred to one of them, Best, as "innocent". It implies the attack on him was more tragic than the other two, as though somehow were asking for it because they took a stand.

    1. That was definitely not my intention at all, but thank you for mentioning it. I was referencing a couple of articles that had used that word. I'll edit that out, because it certainly wasn't my intention. No matter how you look at it, it's tragic that all three of them were victims of the attack.

  3. In this world, in a lifetime, there may come a moment where you feel compelled to stand up for someone even if it means risking your own life. These men were heroes. And I'm glad that this racist piece of crap will never see another day of freedom in his lifetime.

    1. Just wish he could have gotten the death sentence instead. I think people like him should have their organs harvested for donations without anesthesia, them let 'em bleed to death.

  4. On that day, the best of humanity encountered the worst. At the trial, the murderer screamed "I should have killed you, too!" to a witness who was testifying. You may not have known that, but I believe it's an important point to offset his claim that he was "only defending myself." This was also not his first incident on the MAX. He was on that train looking for trouble. He is literally the worst that humanity has to offer, and nothing short of "Real Life" (no parole, ever) is suitable. He is most definitely a danger to society.

    1. He clearly showed NO remorse for what he did. I keep thinking of all of the people who had to witness that and how horrifying it must have been. Thankfully, he'll never get out of prison.

  5. This is such an absolutely heartbreaking story, but the sacrifice of these selfless heroes is the light and hope we all need right now. Very glad you weren't on the train when this happened, and I am so sorry for all those who were.

    1. Selfless is a great word for those men--they stepped in without hesitation, and I admire that so much. It's horrible that they were victims of someone else's hate.

    2. Absolutely...I read your post while taking a break from work, and read the article chronicling the one young man’s memorial service. Those photos were so sweet, I just cried and cried. But it was inspiring at the same time because like you said, I admire them so much and hope I’d have a fraction of the courage they had if I were to ever find myself in a similar situation.

  6. Wow Katie - I remember when that happened. It’s crazy you were just in the next train. Such a tragic and horrifying story. I’m glad you weren’t involved though.

    1. It's hard to believe it was three years ago. I wasn't even involved, but I still think of it and how horrible it was for everyone involved. I'm so glad that he's never getting out of prison.

  7. I have lived in Portland for almost 20 years, and one of the common misconceptions I see about us is that we are a quirky, welcoming little utopia for everyone. The fact is, Oregon has a horrific racist history that has caused a ripple effect into today, and while the MAX incident is beyond heinous and extreme, it's not shocking if you know the history here. Hopefully as we confront it, we can change it.

    I really encourage people to check out this 2016 article from The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/racist-history-portland/492035/

    And this 2020 from from OPB: https://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-white-history-racist-foundations-black-exclusion-laws/

    1. I remember you emailing me about this after it happened, and I was clueless. I had only ever had good experiences, so I was shocked by this tragedy. Thanks for posting the articles!

    2. Hey I'm clueless too. :) Obviously we all have so much to learn, and as long as we do the work to educate ourselves to make the world a safe, better and welcoming place for EVERYONE, it's ok. Heaven knows I've had my own blind spots and denial. Like there is so much to love about Oregon, it is a beautiful place, but I never forget that it's easy for me because I'm a middle-aged white lady. It makes me so sad, but motivated to help change the system so everyone's experience can be like mine. Thanks for listening. :)

  8. Honestly, your picture of you in Portland waiting for Thomas to pick you up is downright insensitive and awful when posting about such a sensitive subject. It comes up as the thumbnail on the post and it's inappropriate to see your smiling face while talking about people dying.

    1. Thank you for pointing that out--it hadn't occurred to me at the time. I was posting in chronological order, and at that time in the story, I was happy to be in Portland, which is why I chose that photo. It wasn't until the following day that I found out about the tragedy on the MAX. You make a good point, though--in retrospect, it was insensitive. It was not intentional, and I apologize for offending you.

    2. I just changed it to the generic MAX photo that has been used in most articles about the incident. Thank you again!


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