OREGON – Muslims in Portland, Oregon, have thanked the community for its support and said they were raising money for the families of two men who were killed when they came to the defense of two young women, one of them is a Muslim, who were targeted by an anti-Muslim rant.
“I am very thankful as a Muslim, I am very thankful as a Portlander… that we stand together here as one,” Muhammad A. Najieb, an imam at the Muslim Community Center, told Northwest Herald.
The two young women “could have been the victims, but three heroes jumped in and supported them,” he added.
Najieb said a fundraising page launched by his group for the families of the dead men, a surviving victim and the two young women had raised $50,000 in its first hours.
The attack occurred on a light-rail train on the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims.
Witnesses told one local media outlet that the suspect shouted about “hating Muslims” before being confronted.
The suspect, identified as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, has been charged with offences including aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon.
The mother of one of the girls the victims were defending posted on Facebook thanking them for what they did, KOIN reports.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Dyjuana Hudson wrote. “You will always be our hero.”
Destinee Mangum, one of the targets of hate speech on a MAX train, thanks strangers for saving her life. pic.twitter.com/sefmOAyIVt
— FOX 12 Oregon KPTV (@fox12oregon) May 28, 2017
Hudson’s teenage daughter, Destinee Mangum, 16, was with her Muslim friend when the suspect allegedly started yelling at them.
“I just want to say thank you to the people who put their life on the line for me,” Mangum told CNN affiliate KPTV, as her voice cracked.
“Because they didn’t even know me and they lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we look.”
On Friday afternoon, Mangum and her friend were riding the MAX light rail when the suspect allegedly targeted them. He yelled at Mangum, who is not Muslim, and her friend, using what police described as “hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions.”
“He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country,” Mangum told KPTV.
“He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should just kill ourselves.”
“Me and my friend were going to get off the MAX and then we turned around while they were fighting and he just started stabbing people,” she said.
“It was just blood everywhere and we just started running for our lives.”
Harris Zafar, author of “Demystifying Islam: Tackling the Tough Questions” and frequent commentator on CNN and Fox News, told The Oregonian/OregonLive Friday night that he found the event “tragic and concerning.”
“As a Muslim, it’s unnerving to know — being a father, being a husband, being a son — that this could have been one of the many women in our mosque and the greater Portland area,” Zafar, who lived in Oregon for 31 years, said.
He added that he was inspired by the men who “had nothing to gain by putting themselves in harm’s way.”
“Of course, that’s immediately replaced by an intense emotion of sadness that they’ve lost their lives,” he said.
“My heart goes out to the families of those individuals, who are also now lost in grief.”
Members of the Muslim Student Association at Portland State University expressed sorrow over the killing.
Organizer Fatmah Worfeley said the group wants to host a vigil after the victims’ families have time to mourn.
“It’s heartbreaking to see these things continue to happen,” she told The Oregonian/OregonLive over the phone Friday evening.
After the attack, Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), issued a statement urging President Trump to denounce growing bigotry.
“I don’t blame Donald Trump — I don’t think he’s a white supremacist,” Zafar said.
Yet, the author said he believes the president’s words have nevertheless empowered those with fringe views.
“Clearly it’s been festering and brewing,” Zafar said.
“And now with the election of President Trump those voices have felt some level of legitimacy.”